University of California • Berkeley
Margaret Wood Bancroft
RECOLLECTIONS OF HUBERT HOWE BANCROFT
AND THE BANCROFT FAMILY
Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library
MARGARET WOOD BANCROFT
Photograph 1976 by
William Webber Johnson
Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library
University of California
Margaret Wood Bancroft
RECOLLECTIONS OF HUBERT HOWE BANCROFT
AND THE BANCROFT FAMILY
With an Introduction by
James D. Hart
An Interview Conducted by
Willa K. Baum
in 1977 and 1978
Copy no. /
Copyright Q 1980 by the Regents of the University of California
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Private memorial services for Howe
Bancroft, 75, of Alexandria, Va., a
member of a prominent San Diego
family, will be at noon Monday in
Everly Wheatley Funeral Home. Burial
will be in Alexandria National Ceme
tery, Va. He died Tuesday in a hospital
Mr. Bancroft, a newspaperman and
writer, was born in San Diego, lived in
the county 23 years, graduated from
Francis Parker School and attended
Stanford University. After working for
newspapers, he was employed by the
Voice of America for 28 years and re
tired in 1969.
Bancroft was a grandson of the late
San Diego historian Hubert Howe Ban
croft and a son of the late bird-egg ex
pert Gnffing Bancroft and the late
Ethel Works Bancroft. She was a
daughter of a California state senator.
Howe Bancroft's survivors include
his wife, Mary, two daughters, Beverly
Burger of France and Nancy Knapp of
Pennsylvania; his stepmother, Marga
ret, of La Jolla; a brother, Griffing, of
Captiva, Fla.; and three grandsons. The
family suggested donations to the
American Cancer Society.
TABLE OF CONTENTS — Margaret Wood Bancroft
INTRODUCTION by James D. Hart i
INTERVIEW HISTORY ill
I INTRODUCTION TO THE WOOD FAMILY 1
The Wood Family 1
Margaret Wood, Movie Actress 8
II MARGARET WOOD AND GRIFF ING BANCROFT 13
Meeting with Griff Bancroft 13
Courtship in San Diego 15
Problems of Divorce and Child Custody 15
First Meeting with Hubert Howe Bancroft 17
The Newlyweds Live with the Bancroft Family 18
The Bancroft Children 19
III THE LAST YEAR OF HUBERT HOWE BANCROFT'S LIFE 25
Walnut Creek Days 25
Trip to Yosemite 37
IV EARLIER MEMORIES OF THE HUBERT HOWE BANCROFT FAMILY 41
V THE DEATH OF HUBERT HOWE BANCROFT 59
The Fatal Accident 59
The Funeral 61
His Estate 63
VI THE BANCROFT FAMILY IN CALIFORNIA POLITICS 66
Philip Bancroft's Campaign for U.S. Senator, 1938 66
Bancroft Farm Labor 72
Japanese-American Relocation, World War II 72
Participation in Richard Nixon's Campaigns 74
VII MORE BANCROFT FAMILY BACKGROUND 78
Hubert Howe Bancroft in His Older Years 78
The Bancroft Fruit Ranch, Walnut Creek 81
The Family - Relatives and Relationships 85
VIII HUBERT HOWE BANCROFT ASKS ABOUT THE MOVIES 88
The Life of a Movie Starlet 88
Mack Sennett Studio; Charlie and Sidney Chaplin 91
A Storm Ends Margaret's Movie Career 95
The Cecil De Milles 97
D.W. Griffith; Dorothy and Lillian Gish; Mae Marsh 98
IX THE WOOD FAMILY OF KENTUCKY AND WITCH CREEK, CALIFORNIA 105
The Wood Family in Glasgow, Kentucky 105
The Move to Southern California 109
Running a Guest Ranch at Witch Creek 111
Margaret Wood Joins a Movie Company, 1913 123
X GRIFF ING BANCROFT AND HIS FAMILY 128
Bird Egg Collecting 128
Sons Griff ing, Jr. and Howe 147
Philip Bancroft, Republican Candidate for Senator, 1938 148
Margaret Bancroft's Work During World War II 149
Family Life After the War 151
XI HUBERT HOWE BANCROFT'S DESCENDENTS 154
Children and Grandchildren 154
Problems of Griff ing Bancroft's Divorce and Child Custody 170
Hubert Howe Bancroft's Religious Attitudes 174
GUIDE TO THE TAPES 178
APPENDIX I - "Spring Valley Refuge 10,000 Years Old," [Bancroft
Ranch House], San Diego Evening Tribune, Monday,
January 24, 1977. 179
APPENDIX II - "Bancroft Ousted in 1893; Local Group Takes Up
Cause for Historian," The San Diego Union, Sunday,
December 12, 1976. 182
APPENDIX III - Letter from Griff ing Bancroft, Jr. to Margaret
Wood Bancroft, January 28, 1977, about his
memories of Hubert Howe Bancroft. 183
APPENDIX IV - "Griffing Bancroft." Islander (Captiva, Florida),
May 9, 1978. 184
APPENDIX V - Howe Bancroft Biographical Sketch, Fall 1979. 186
In her oral history one gets a vivid sense of what Margaret Wood Bancroft
is : a dynamic person possessed of firm views and great charm. She speaks
her mind frankly and also freely; she knows what she thinks and she has no
hesitation in expressing herself. In the course of these interviews the
flavor of her personality and the quality of her character come through
Margaret Bancroft's pert, lively and attractive manner shines through
this memoir so that one is not surprised to discover that years ago she was
a starlet in the early days of Hollywood, acquainted with Charlie Chaplin,
the Gish sisters, Cecil B. De Mille, and D.W. Griffith. One can readily
see too why she was appealing to men and how Griffing Bancroft fell in love
with her very quickly. As she says in her wonderfully forthright fashion:
"There was my romance. I gave up movies and everything else. But, every
time I got mad at him, which I often did, and we fought, I would say, 'Well,
I'm going back to the movies.'"
Instead of going back to the movies, Margaret Wood Bancroft went on to
rear Griffing Bancroft's two sons by his previous marriage and to help take
care of his aging father, Hubert Howe Bancroft, the famous bibliophile and
This volume thus gives us two portraits of consequence. One is that of a
charming woman in her own words, the other a fresh view of Hubert Howe
Bancroft seen from a special vantage point. Here is Hubert Howe Bancroft
the avid book collector and assiduous worker but much more than that, here
is Hubert Howe Bancroft the head of his family. Granted he was an old man
in his eighties when Margaret became not only his daughter-in-law but a
resident in his home, yet she caught the essential nature of the man. She
possesses a remarkable power of recollection and great vivacity in summoning
up revelatory situations now more than sixty years in the past. In keeping
with the mores of the times, Hubert Howe Bancroft feared that his son's
bride might have been "tarnished" by her work in the movies but he was
quickly disabused of such a view and came to admire her spunky independence
and to recognize that nothing was going to harm her own strong character.
Hubert Howe Bancroft is now a legendary figure amalgamated into the
remarkable library in Berkeley that bears his name and in whose entryway
one is first greeted by his impressive marble effigy. Even in his own day
he was a notable figure so that, as Margaret Bancroft tells us, the post
office delivered a letter to him though it was addressed simply "Mr. Bancroft,
California." But his daughter-in-law makes him a real person, possessed of
fine qualities and equally well of curious crotchets and quaint character
istics. Yet all of his traits of personality, sometimes seemingly
contradictory, are obviously but different facets of a whole individual, as
Margaret Bancroft makes us realize. The person who could oversee the creation
of thirty-nine volumes of history - 12,000,000 words worth - is obviously an
organization man. How obviously we learn through a delightful anecdote pre
sented in this memoir: "When his wife, Matilda, was going away for two weeks,
she made him promise to write her every day. Disliking to have this hanging
over his head, he saw her off, returned to his office, dictated fourteen
letters, and instructed his secretary to mail one each day."
Other little recollections of the great man by Margaret Bancroft are
equally illuminating. On the one hand she recalled how he so disliked
tipping waiters that, as she remarked, she had "to fill my pockets full of
quarters, half-dollars, and dollars; all in silver, in those days. So I
always forgot my coat or handbag, then went back to the table to leave a
tip." But if Mr. Bancroft was tight in such little ways, he was large and
generous in others, such as the impulsive warmth that he showed to his
children and to Margaret, the daughter by marriage. When by chance he
discovered she had never seen Yosemite, he quickly declared, '"All right,
we'll take you there" 1 and within moments arranged to set off with a great
picnic basket hastily prepared.
Here, then, is a man important to California's culture brought richly to
life because he is perceptively remembered by a very vital woman. Margaret
Wood Bancroft not only has a consequential life of her own to record but she
also had the experience and the insight to create a lively profile of a
significant man, Hubert Howe Bancroft.
James D. Hart
The Bancroft Library
March 5, 1980
Time and Place of
the Interviews: March 9 and 10, and July 2 and 3, 1977, and September
28, 29, 30, 1978, at the seaside apartment of Margaret
Bancroft in La Jolla.
Persons Present: Mrs. Bancroft and the interviewer, Willa Baum.
Editor: Catherine Scholten, editorial staff of the Regional
Oral History Office.
Margaret Wood Bancroft was interviewed in order to preserve her recollec
tions of her father-in-law, historian Hubert Howe Bancroft, and his family.
Margaret Wood was a lively young horsewoman from San Diego County and an
aspiring starlet in the new movie industry when she married Griffing Bancroft
in 1917 and took over the raising of his two sons. They lived with the
Bancroft family in Walnut Creek during the first year of their marriage, a
time when Margaret got to know her aging father-in-law well; they then
returned to San Diego where Griffing managed the Bancroft properties. Mrs.
Bancroft in her oral history recounts the early history of the Bancrofts as
she heard it from her husband and other family members, her own experiences
with Hubert Howe Bancroft, and the unfolding of the lives of his descendants.
The story of her family's move from Kentucky to California in 1900 and their
subsequent participation in the cultural life of Southern California documents
a later migration than that of the Bancrofts.
Margaret Wood Bancroft was recommended for interview by two of The
Bancroft Library's directors. Professor George P. Hammond, Director Emeritus,
and his wife had called on Mrs. Bancroft in the course of a trip to San Diego
and they came away insistent that her perceptions of her father-in-law must
be preserved through oral history. Professor James D. Hart, the present
director, thereafter met Mrs. Bancroft at a historical society meeting in
San Diego and immediately approved the proposed oral history memoir.
The interviewer had enjoyed working with Philip Bancroft, Sr., Hubert Howe
Bancroft's youngest son, on his oral history in 1961 and 1962, and through
this contact had met Philip's wife Nina, Philip, Jr., and assorted grand
children. The opportunity to work with the widow of Hubert Howe Bancroft's
second son was a welcome one, and it proved as rewarding in creating a
lasting friendship as the earlier assignment to interview Philip had been.
For all three interview sessions, the interviewer flew down to San Diego
and was met by Mrs. Bancroft and her chauf feur-cum-housekeeper Lilly Carter
and taken to the Bancroft apartment in La Jolla. From then until they
returned her to the plane a day or two later, she enjoyed an exhilirating
round of recording, looking over Bancroft family papers, visiting the histor
ical sites of San Diego County, meeting Margaret's friends and family, and
walking the beach or swimming far out in the warm Pacific with Margaret as
the guide. A cocktail party in the apartment and a dinner party in the La
Jolla Sea Lodge across the street brought together history-minded people and
Bancroft-Wood family and friends. All these events and people, though not
planned so, illustrated the kind of active community involvement that had
made Griffing Bancroft and, later, his lovely young wife so much a part of
San Diego life since the days when Hubert Howe Bancroft had purchased
property there and left the handling of it to his son.
The interviews took place in the living room of the comfortable, two-
bedroom apartment of Margaret Bancroft. A card table and tape recorder were
set up for the duration of the visits to facilitate on-going talking and
looking at papers. Outside, the beach stretched northward to Scripps
Institution of Oceanography. Birds, varieties of which Griffing and Margaret
and later Griffing, Jr., had made a lifetime study, nested in the palm tree
outside the picture window. On the opposite wall a large Charles Reiffel
painting of Witch Creek Mountain warmed the room and picked up the colors of
the oriental rugs that covered the thick carpeting. Bancroft family heir
looms furnished the apartment and books written by friends and family and
inscribed with affection to Griffing and Margaret filled the living-room
bookcase. In the guest room the interviewer slept in the carved wooden bed
in which Griffing Bancroft had been born and had died. (In the interim,
Margaret had had it converted to twin beds at Griff ing's request.)
Margaret could still pass for a movie starlet. Small and trim, tan with
dark eyes set off by a luxuriant halo of white wavy hair, she bounced about
the apartment barefooted, ever ready to dash out to the beach. There was a
time scheduled for an afternoon nap, a concession to Margaret's eighty-four
years, but the rest time gained there was more than nullified by the past-
midnight chatterings of interviewee and interviewer, who exchanged life
philosophies, experiences, and secrets that never reached the tape recorder.
During the interview process, Margaret and the interviewer adhered to an
outline that focused on the Bancroft family; another story highlighting the
history of San Diego County and Margaret Bancroft herself yet remains to be
told. At this writing, Margaret Bancroft and Virginia McKenzie Smith are
working on a history of the Witch Creek-Julian area for the San Diego
Editing was done by Catherine Scholten, who worked closely by mail and
telephone with Margaret Bancroft in checking details. In La Jolla, Mrs.
Bancroft's good friend Dr. Kenneth Little spent several full days with her
helping review and correct the transcript. Completed, it remains fairly
close to the tape recordings with some minor changes for clarity and style.
During the editing period, Mrs. Bancroft visited The Bancroft Library, viewed
the many Bancroft papers and photographs already there, and donated to the
Library an extensive file of correspondence between Hubert Howe Bancroft and
Griffing dating from 1887 to 1904.
Regional Oral History Office
486 The Bancroft Library
University of California at Berkeley
I INTRODUCTION TO THE WOOD FAMILY
[Interview 1: March 9, 1977 ]##
The Wood Family
Baum: This is Margaret Wood Bancroft, daughter-in-law of Hubert Howe
Bancroft. Should we start in with what you were doing here in
San Diego and how you met Griffing Bancroft? Where would you
feel comfortable starting this story?
MWB: Let's start it when we landed in San Diego on October 10, 1900.
You see, Griff was mixed up with our family from the very beginning.
Baum: All right. Then start there. But I want to go back, later, and
get a lot about your family in Kentucky.
MWB: The Wood family came from Glasgow, Kentucky and moved to San Diego.
October 10, 1900, we arrived there. One brother had come ahead of
us; had a house rented because it was a matter of eight of us at
that time. There were actually eight children, but there were two
of them not there. We took seven days to come out by train from
Glasgow, Kentucky. Glasgow, Kentucky is near the Tennessee border.
We spent the first night in Louisville and then went to St. Louis
and then out to Los Angeles and spent the night there. We came to
California because of our family's health. My oldest brother had
died of tuberculosis and a doctor, Dr. Winn, who had come here
thought it was so gorgeous and it would help to keep us from
symbol indicates that a tape or a segment of a tape has
begun or ended. For a guide to the tapes see page 178.
MWB: getting tuberculosis. It was rampant in those days all through
the Mississippi Valley. When we landed here, we went directly to
the home. There we stayed for nearly a year and a half. None of
the family improved in health, mainly because of the amount of fog.
Baum: This is the home your brother had rented?
MWB: Yes. But we immediately bought a home right after that.
A year and a half later we moved to the mountains; we moved up
to Descanso. In six months, it had made such a real change in the
health of us younger children that my mother said, "At all costs,
we are going to live in the mountains." So she and my father took
a team of horses and a buggy and began driving from Descanso over
to Cuyamaca down to Julian. Someone said this hotel at Witch Creek
was for sale. It was owned by an English couple, the Fishers, who
wanted to go to Australia to join their grown sons. Overnight, my
family bought this place. It was small acreage, about fifteen
acres and just enough to have some horses and a garden.
We lived there for thirteen years. We were immediately put in
school there. But, before that, we had been with this Dr. D.C.
Meyers at Descanso. All of us children had ridden since we could
be thrown in front of my father's saddle and ride that way until
we were old enough to ride by ourselves. So we took to the
western life of riding very easily. When we got to Witch Creek,
there was a buggy and two or three horses, and a man hauling our
possessions, the few things that we had up in the mountains.
George Sawday, who owned half of San Diego at one time or another —
it was his brother who had driven this four-horse team to bring
over the furniture and whatnot — George got off his horse and came
in to visit and talk with my father and mother, and he turned to me
and said, "Young lady, what are you going to be?" At that time, I
was ten. I said, "I am a cowboy." He said, "Would you like to
work for me?" and I said, "Yes, I would." So he said, "All right,
you come tomorrow morning and start to ride with me." His place
was a half a mile up the road. From that day to the day he died,
I was his little girl Friday. He was one of the most popular men
and one of the greatest landowners of anyone in San Diego County.
Baum: Let me backtrack a little. What was your father's name and your
MWB: My father's name was Clarence Wood and my mother's name was Cora
Baum: How many children were there when you came out to San Diego in
MWB: There were seven living.
Baum: Seven children. Could you mention who they were?
MWB: My oldest brother, Ashton, had died when he was seventeen. That
was a few years before this. Ashton, and then Joseph, and then
came a sister, Elizabeth; another sister, Susie May; another
sister, Mickle; and Cora and Johnson and myself, Margaret.
Baum: And did others of the children besides Ashton have TB or suspected
MWB: Suspected. My father did not have, but he had serious bronchial
trouble. That had improved fifty percent.
There were people staying there in the hotel at Witch Creek.
The Fishers were ready to go and they moved out as we moved in.
Baum: Do you know their first names?
MWB: The English couple. No, I can't remember. As a matter of fact,
there were a number of English families there, around Witch Creek,
as there were all over Southern California and down to Ensenada.
That goes way back.
But, anyway, we immediately were put in a school there, a one-
story schoolhouse, which now has been made into an historical
monument and public library at Julian, owned by the government.
MWB: Yes, the school is still there. But we accommodated ourselves to
it very quickly.
Baum: You must have filled up the school.
MWB: Well, no, there were only Johnson, Cora, and myself. My sister
Mickle was in a convent in Los Angeles and Elizabeth was studying
dramatic art in New York. Susie May was a young lady of sixteen.
She was beautiful. She had gold-red hair, green eyes, and one of
those peaches-and-cream complexions. She really was a lovely
looking person. Three were dark and two were blond, very decided.
Isn't that funny? But Elizabeth came back, I guess at the end of
the semester. It was a year later she came.
So we worked, made our living. Mother usually had Japanese
cooks. The Chinese never got along well there, because there were
no friendships. The Japanese were wild to learn the English
MWB: language. My mother taught this man cooking. Then we had Indian
girls work and usually an Indian man, who worked on the place. We
had our own fruit trees, vineyards, vegetable gardens and a beauti
ful, beautiful garden around the house.
Baum: What had your father's occupation been back in Kentucky?
MWB: Wholesale hardware and farm equipment, like mowing machines and
all types of vehicles.
Baum: And he'd made enough money that he could sell out and buy the
ranch here in San Diego?
MWB: Yes. The Wood family always had money. They had big farms and
tobacco and there was some money there. Of course, in those days,
you didn't need much money.
There was a fire in the store. After we were grown, we asked
our mother whether she set the fire, because she was the one who
was determined to come to California. We always kidded her that
she must have set it because the whole side of the square burned
Baum: Was that where your father's store was?
MWB: Yes. It was well-equipped, you see. He had all sorts of fancy
buggies and traps, they called them, then, of every kind. They
were just beginning to carry bicycles. That was in the late '90s.
Baum: There was insurance, I suppose.
MWB: Oh, yes. Good insurance. Absolutely. We had a home which my
father bought after my brother Ashton died. (Mother would never
go back to our old home.) Quite a big place. We had that under
contract to buy it when the owner's estate was settled. The people
died and it was in escrow with us, so we got out of that, fortu
nately, and had that money, too, after the fire. We had plenty of
money. We lived very well. There was lots of help. There was
always a half-grown black, if you want to call it, and the boy or
girl just watching over us.
But when my father got out here, he was a very good tourist.
He first bought an orange grove and found they couldn't get water.
Then he went from that and got interested in some mining. That's
really why we went up to Descanso, because of Dr. Meyers, who lived
in Descanso. We lived on his place.
MWB: So we grew up there and then, as we went through that school, they
would teach the ninth grade at Witch Creek, if you paid extra or
got a teacher. My father was on the school board and immediately
got a teacher that could do it. _I didn't go back to school after
the ninth grade because, by this time, two of the sisters were
married and Elizabeth was very frail, and we were needed at home.
So there were three years that I didn't go back to school.
Baum: When you say, "needed at home, "'was that to do work?
MWB: Work. Work. I mean work.
Baum: To help on the ranch.
MWB: Help run the ranch and help run the guests. I guided people from
the time I was ten years old. By the time I was fourteen, I used
to drive a team of horses clear down to Foster to get people — that
was the end of the train line — and get there early so the horses
could rest and then drive them back.
Baum: Where did these people come from?
MWB: Everybody in San Diego went. Through my two sisters we knew many
people in San Diego. When we came to San Diego, we began to meet
people immediately. Then my brother had been there and he was a
most presentable young man, so he was introduced. My father, the
first thing he did was to go down to the First National Bank.
There was a very prominent family, a man by the name of D.F.
Garrettson, who was president. His son-in-law was Frank Belcher,
which is an extremely well-known name here in San Diego . Father
put his money in the bank. That afternoon Mrs. Garrettson and
the daughter, Virginia, the age of my sister Susie May, came to
call. It was that important. Isn't that interesting? They were
quite close and they had immediately fallen in. My sister was
taken into the Decem Club, which was a group of girls, who started
out with ten, just a little social club. But it was the core of
the best families and the best-looking girls.
Baum: Excuse me. Your brother Joseph is the one who was here first, is
that right? Was he working?
MWB: Joe B. Wood, we all called him. He was working in a hardware store
with a well-known family who owned it, George Hawley. San Diego
was only 17,000 people at that time. That was the census of San
How old was Joe when he got here?
MWB: I'm trying to think. Wait a minute. I was seven. He must have
been about twenty.
Baum: So he was a very young man.
MWB: Yes, a very young man. That was all in 1900. We were Catholics;
Mother was a convert. She immediately, that year that we were
there, went to the Catholic academy, and we moved down to 3rd and
Cedar, which was very close to a big Catholic church. It was big
then, bigger than the town was; it was built for eternity. You
know, it's the cathedral now. We enjoyed it.
The first thing my father did was pile us in sort of a tally-ho
and drive out to La Jolla. It was the first time we'd ever seen
the ocean, any of us. It was the most exciting day and it's vivid
in my mind, all of us coming back, just dripping with shells and
everything we could collect. And he started us swimming. It was
a salt pool, and I've been swimming ever since. I'm still swimming
to this day.
Baum: They told me you went swimming almost every day of the year.
MWB: No, in the summertime. I don't go in the wintertime. Too cold.
But from that, from there, I think it was just about a year and
a half when we moved to Descanso. We were there eight months and
then moved to Witch Creek. Then we kept our place there until
1913. By that time, the whole family had scattered.
My mother died, not long after she went to Kentucky. She had
a wonderful trip, she and my sister Cora. Mother had a chance to
talk to her sisters, just as southern as it could possibly be.
My father was dead. My father died in 1910. He had a brother
living in Danville. At that time, I was to live with my sister
Mickle, who was having her third child, Sarah.
Baum: This was after your mother died?
MWB: No. After my father died. Mother had gone to Kentucky. And I
was going to live with this sister, you see. Witch Creek was
Baum: After your father died, you closed Witch Creek.
MWB: No. We kept it open for three years. Then we closed it finally
and sold it. Just before it was closed, when my mother and my
sister went to Kentucky, four men came up to Witch Creek, great
friends, and they were starting a motion picture studio. Everyone
MWB: in those days thought you just had to get together some actors and
a little bit of equipment and a camera, and that was it. They
thought that I'd be a wonderful person for it because of my ability
to drive four-horse teams and my ability to ride bareback and to do
Baura: You were going to do cowboy movies, too?
MWB: Oh, yes. That's what they were making. That was the thing. It
was very popular in those days. I went down and lived with this
sister and went into the movies. It was a company called Ammex,
which meant American Mexico , and I was there for about three
months, and with the help of the training that I had from this
sister, it all came very easily to me.
Baum: You said Mickle was the sister who had been in the convent in Los
MWB: Just school. A convent school.
Baum: And then had she taken actress training, too?
MWB: No. Elizabeth was the only one who took the training.
Baum: Where was this company?
MWB: It was in National City. In an old storehouse. I remember so
well, they had a number of very good actors. Enid Markey was
quite a well-known actress and she was the star, but she knew
nothing about riding or western stunts. She was always the girl
that was in the stagecoach, you see. And I was outside driving
After, maybe two or three months, we were having lunch one day
and I was sitting on my horse. They had just brought us some
boxes of lunch. A young fellow came up and slapped my horse from
behind. The horse slipped on the pavement and I was thrown free
of him, but I broke my ankle. So that ended my movie career for
the time being. I had a gun on. All the equipment of western
attire. As they were taking me to the hospital, I said, "I want
to go to San Diego." They said, "You can't because it's too far."
And I said, "I don't want anyone to touch me unless it's Dr. Homer
Oatman," who was the surgeon at San Diego. They didn't know
whether the gun was loaded or not, so they quickly called Dr.
Oatman, and he came tearing out there in an automobile and he
said, "What's up, Margaret?" With that, he began examining me,
and he taped my ankle, and took me back to my sister's. That
ended my career. Before I was well, the studio had gone bankrupt.
Baum: Tell me what you looked like then.
MWB: I was very dark. I'll show you some pictures. I was very dark
haired, dark eyes, and an athletic figure. But I had then been
bitten by the actor's bug. I couldn't go back for nearly a year
because then my sister Elizabeth died. I had to stay and help
with the family. We had sold Witch Creek, but we hadn't taken
our things out of it.
Baum: How did your sister die?
MWB: TB. Arrested TB.
Baum: So it really was rampant.
MWB: It was rampant, yes.
Baum: What did your mother die of?
Baum: And your father?
MWB: He died of anemia, in St. Joseph's Hospital. It's now Mercy, but
it used to be St. Joseph's Hospital. And then another sister died
later. I can tell you that later.
I went up to Los Angeles and lived with my brother Joe and his
wife and went to dramatic school, Egan Dramatic School on Pico
Street in Los Angeles.
Margaret Wood, Movie Actress
Baum: In what year was that?
MWB: It was 1914.
Fortunately I had some good friends. One of them was this
Frances Marion, who wrote most of the stories for Marion Davies
and was a great friend of Marion Davies during all that period
when she was living with Hearst. And she phoned and said this
Bosworth Company had a place for me in a story. I think it was
a Jack London story. It was not Alaska. So I quit school
immediately and went there. Frances was doing publicity for
this company. Mostly they were two-reelers in those days, but
MWB: this story was a four-reeler. I can't even remember the name of
the story, except it was by Jack London. Alfred Allen, one of my
teachers in the drama school, was an older man, a much older man.
He was very interested in my career. He thought I should go on
the stage because he thought I had the qualities for the stage,
but I was more interested in making money at any cost — don't say
any cost, because it sounds worse than it is, doesn't it?
MWB: This Jack London story was a four-reeler and then there was another
one with Dustin Farnum.
Baum: Can you tell me a little bit about how they filmed those?
MWB: Well, in the first place, everyone was enchanted by this time by
using the closeups. I think they first used the closeups in
Birth of a Nation. They filmed nearly everything outside. Those
studios, half of it, was just canvas. The sets were put up and
then kind of all put together and canvas put over them at night.
They were going so fast that they didn't have either the time
or the money to build the studios. It was when D.W. Griffith
dominated the period.
Baum: This was after you left Bosworth and went with D.W. Griffith.
MWB: Yes, I was in only one play that Griffith actually directed and
that was Intolerance.
MWB: Yes. I was a Roman princess being carried through the streets of
Jerusalem and Christ was pushed aside for me to be carried through.
If you remember the story of Intolerance, it started with Babylon
and then the Renaissance. . .what would come up next? I guess, the
Civil War, I believe, but I'd have to look that up, and then the
Modern. Mae Marsh was in that. There were just any number of
actors in that. I was nearly six months on call because they
could put you into anything. They'd put you into a scene that was
running. Any director who needed more people could use you as
background. That's the way they handled it.
Baum: Did you play several parts in that movie, then?
KWB: Just that one, for D.W. I mean I did play other parts.
Baum: They didn't move you around so you'd be different people in
MWB: Oh no, no.
Baum: You were just one person.
MWB: One person in that part. What I meant is, say, that Director A
over here has a set and is short so many women; why, you were
given a costume hurriedly and put on camera at a dinner table.
Baum: Sort of like the extras —
MWB: Well, it was. We weren't extras because we were salaried.
Baum: Do you remember what your salary was?
MWB: Twenty-five dollars a week, I think it was, and then when you
played in something, you got more than, I don't know, three times
that, according to how big the part was, but you had to report
every day. And if they didn't want you, they turned you loose or
they'd say, well, you don't have to report for maybe a couple of
days. It worked differently. After I was there for a length of
time, this Alfred Allen, who had been at the Egan School, said I
must have comedy. Through him, he got me a job at Keystone Studio.
A great comedienne, Mabel Normand, worked for him, always.
Baum: Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin?
MWB: No, no. The director. Isn't that awful? I can't think of that
man ' s name .
Baum: Not Sennett.
MWB: Yes. Mack Sennett. That was uproarious and fun. Lots of times,
I stood in for Mabel Normand because she and I were almost the same
coloring and same size. And she was the star. She did what she
Baum: Now we know what you looked like.
MWB: I sent a picture of her, done up in furs, and took the name off,
to my sister Cora and she had it on her mirror. Never knew that
it wasn't me until I got there to tell her I had done it purely
as a joke. You got to know people awfully well in the studios.
There was a young blonde woman who worked there, Joy Lewis; she
never married. We worked together and we would be just two, maybe
three women, in the whole of this two-reeler. We did anything we
were told to do.
I can remember going up to Mt. Baldy and we were snowed in
there. I think it was the first time anyone had ever done a
picture of skiing. One of the ski instructors said, "I could
teach you to ski very easily, because you're so active." The
MWB: director, Avery, said, "Don't you dare! I don't want Margaret to
do that because I want them to be as awkward as it is possible to
be." And so, we were just stumbling all over. Get on these skis
and fall in every direction, you see.
Baum: This was for comedy.
MWB: The comedy, sure. The comedy of it.
Charlie Chaplin wasn't working and he came up and spent — he was
snowed in there for a couple of days — and I was enchanted with
really seeing and talking with him. A group of us would sit around
a big fire at night because we didn't have to work on account of
the weather. He'd tell us these fabulous stories of his early life
in England, he and his brother. In England, they had to put across
their act in about five minutes, where here they had from ten to
fifteen minutes; it was on the vaudeville stage. They were a
tough bunch, I can tell you, but I survived.
Baum: These movie actors?
MWB: I mean the comedy people, as a group, were a tough bunch.
Baum: What do you mean, tough?
Baum: Not proper for a young lady of that time?
MWB: No, but that was our education. And, as I say, I survived. I
don't think there was ever such a really, almost grossly tough
person as Sid Chaplin's wife. Just Cockney English, but with
very little education, very little training. Just unbelievable.
Baum: I've heard Charlie Chaplin was very shy. But that doesn't sound
like what you're saying.
MWB: Well, he was there with his own brother and his wife, and with
this very small cast. He could do some terribly funny things.
We were working on one picture at one time, and we were four.
There was a potentate of some type and we had to bow down to the
floor, not look at him at all. Charlie Chaplin stepped up behind
the director, who got awfully excited. He would run his hands
through his hair like this [gestures] and gesticulate and every
thing, and Chaplin just stepped right behind him and followed him
perfectly. We came up roaring with laughter, instead of with this
look of admiration that we should have for this potentate. Did
we get scolded! Because, of course, they had to take the whole
thing all over again. And the director turned around, because
MWB: our eyes were focused beyond him. He said, "Oh, Charlie, I didn't
know you were here." Charlie had pushed his hair back, straightened
his necktie, and stood there. [laughter]
Baum: And let you take the blame.
MWB : Sure .
Baum: Where did you girls in the movie stay? Were there dormitories or
did you sleep in a hotel?
MWB: In the best hotels there were. More than once, I put the piece of
furniture across the door for fear that they'd bribe a bellhop to
open the door. This girl and I were the same vintage and were not
playing funny with all the men. We had to protect ourselves.
Generally speaking, no one wants to have to be slapped down. I
think men can tell pretty quickly who the girls are who'd want to
have fun and who don't. We set a standard. I remember, Courtney
Foote one day said, "The only woman in this studio who is a lady
is Margaret Wood, and now you're trying to ruin her." One of
these men was making some kind of advance or something and Foote
was protecting me on it. Because I was so young. Of course, I
wasn't. I was twenty years old. Pretty old.
But just at that time when I was with the Mack Sennett Company,
there came an awful flood all over Southern California. There
were trains washed out. My sister Susie May was ill, so I took a
steamer to come down to San Diego. It wasn't a steamer; it was
one of those boats that ran from San Francisco to San Diego. A
couple of beaux of mine had taken me down to the dock at San Pedro,
and I saw this man looking down from the boat deck.
I got on the boat and went over to wave goodbye to these beaux
of mine. He came over and said, "How's your sister Susie May?"
I looked at him and I thought, "Yes, I think that's Griff Bancroft,"
because I'd known him way back, you see, in Witch Creek days. I
think I called him Mr. Bancroft. He said he knew I was one of
these sisters, but he couldn't figure out which one. So he knew
Susie May was his age. I said to him, "You were just wondering
which Wood sister I am." And I said, "Margaret." That's when he
and I really became interested in each other.
We had to stay out overnight because of the fog and quite a
few of us San Diegans got together and danced and had fun. My
brother-in-law met me and he took Griff up to the Cuyamaca Club.
And as soon as Griff got out, he said, "Griff Bancroft is a
married man." I said, "I know he's married and has three children.
What's that?" And he said, "He said he was coming out to see you."
Griff ing Bancroft, 1913
Margaret Wood Bancroft and her
stepsons, Griff ing, Jr. (right)
and Hubert Howe Bancroft, III
(Howe) , 1918
Mrs. Hubert Howe Bancroft
(Matilda Cooley) , with her son,
Griff ing and her grandaughter, Barbara,
II MARGARET WOOD AND GRIPPING BANCROFT
Meeting with Griff Bancroft
MWB: I said that he is getting a divorce, or something like that. And
the next day Griff appeared unannounced — my sister and her husband
were living in quite a big place out near East San Diego then.
Baum: Which sister was this?
MWB: Susie May.
Baum: Oh, that's the one he knew.
MWB: Yes. He came up to see how Susie May was. And there he was. We
were married a year and a half later. And that is the meeting,
Actually, when we first came to San Diego, he came in a buggy
and took my mother and Susie May and myself down to look at the
Bancroft House, which is at Fourth and Fir, and it was for us to
rent or buy. They wanted us to buy, because by that time, Mrs.
Hubert Howe Bancroft was ill, I guess, or was disinterested. I
think maybe it was rent.
Baum: What was Griff doing in San Diego?
MWB: He was managing the Bancroft property. They had a great deal of
property and a big farm at Spring Valley.
Baum: I knew the Bancrofts had property there, but I didn't know how
substantial it was.
MWB: At one time, I think we paid the highest taxes in San Diego, because
he had so much property here. They had a big house at 4th and Fir,
and that's where these letters are going to come in, because I
think there's a great deal about it. ' Then nearly a thousand acres
out at Spring Valley, with a house that has now been made into an
historical landmark. The street was named Bancroft. It's out
there in Spring Valley. And Griff was managing all the San Diego
property. They had a couple of small theatres. Hubert Howe
Bancroft bought property everywhere.
Later, Griff used to come out to Witch Creek. I don't remember
Hubert Howe Bancroft on that trip to Witch Creek. I do remember
Griff because he asked about a telephone. There was no telephone
nearer than Ramona, except in this Sawday house. And it was almost
dark. He said, "I don't want to start my car again." My father
spoke up and said, "Margaret can drive you up in her little two-
wheel cart." So he went out to the barn with me and saw me sling
this harness on and put this horse onto the cart, and I drove him
up there, and he telephoned. That was soon after his first daugh
ter was born. Hubert Howe Bancroft and Mrs. Bancroft, Matilda
Griff ing, with Griff, were touring the country, and according to
this letter Mr. Bancroft wrote to me later, he said they stayed a
week there. I don't remember. The only thing I remember is Mrs.
Bancroft told my mother that we children shouldn't be allowed to
ride horseback to much because it had wrecked her daughter's
health. There were things that we won't write down in public.
Baum: Her daughter Lucy's health?
MWB: Yes. Our mother thought a great deal of the Bancrofts because of
his historical writing — Mother was a schoolteacher. She'd say,
"Now, Mrs. Bancroft says that you girls shouldn't be riding the
way you are riding." Because I was just a wild Indian, you see,
riding bareback. I never had a saddle until I was seventeen years
old, never had the money to have a saddle. And so, we hated Mrs.
Bancroft. We wished she'd never come. But I have no recollection
of Mr. Bancroft. The only recollection, the first recollection,
was when I went to San Francisco. So that ends the Woods, unless
you want to go on further. That's when I met Griff and there we
Mrs. Bancroft has donated to The Bancroft Library a substantial
collection of letters written by Hubert Howe Bancroft to his son
Griff ing Bancroft.
Courtship in San Diego
Baum: Was that about 1914?
MWB: No, 1916. That flood was in February and the studios closed down
for at least a month. And Susie May wanted my help with the baby
she had just had, the second baby. So I went down there to San
Diego to be with her and was delighted to have something to do.
Baum: Hadn't Griff's divorce proceedings begun some years before?
MWB: Yes. Griff and Ethel were separated. I think it was 1912.
Baum: So that was already four years that they'd been separated when you
MWB: Yes, I think the trouble came up before that. Then they tried to
live together again, two or three times, on account of the children.
Baum: I'm just curious why your brother-in-law objected to Griff calling
on you when obviously he had been separated some time.
MWB: You see, we were a Catholic family. If my mother had been living,
I doubt if I would have married him, because my mother was a
matriarch of the first water.
Baum: I don't think we need to discuss the divorce in any detail, except
how your family felt about it, which I think is social history,
and how Hubert Howe felt about it.
MWB: He was simply delighted, but my family did everything in the world
to keep me from marrying a divorced man. And also a man who was
fourteen-and-a-half years older and with three very fractious
children. They thought that it was taking a great risk, which
it was, maybe. You see, at this time, both my father and mother
were dead, and one brother and one sister dead. There were two
brothers and four sisters and me left. After all, I was at that
time twenty-two years old and had been independent for quite a
while. Whenever I got mad at Griff, I would say I was going back
to the movies. I was standing off, to go back a couple of paces.
Problems of Divorce and Child Custody
MWB: When Ethel Works Bancroft, Griff's wife, realized that he was
going to marry me, she started filing a countersuit for divorce,
because Griff was determined to get the custody of the three
MWB: children, and to have a better financial arrangement. I think she
hoped, like so many wives do, that she was going to get him back.
So he was filing suit and she was filing suit at the same time.
Griff tried to make it, in the beginning, a quiet divorce, and
then the fireworks started when she realized definitely that he
was going to be married. Not that she had anything against me,
because she barely knew me and I never knew her at all.
That's why, when you speak about the wedding, we had planned
to be married in July, and then this lawsuit came; so we were
not married until the second of September, 1917.
The Friday before, Griff was supposed to deliver the children
to the courthouse. Instead of that, my brother Johnson drove his
car, with his Aunt Josie Griff ing, and the English governess, and
they took the children through the back roads that passed Witch
Creek and Warner's Hot Springs and clear over the back roads to
Los Angeles. They stayed overnight after they got out of the
county. I was in Los Angeles at my brother's house; I wasn't
down here when this thing happened . We had made up our minds .
The lawyers said to marry immediately before they could slap a
stay of execution, that he did not have a divorce. They had
given him the divorce and given her the children. Griff wouldn't
So, we met at my brother's house and were married that Sunday.
My brother Joe and sister both, by this time, had become very fond
of Griff; all the family had, except they just thought it wasn't
the wise thing, on account of the age and the divorce. I had
tried to get a dispensation and was unable to at that time, so we
were married at their house. Afterwards, Aunt Josie went to
Santa Barbara and the English governess went back to close Griff's
house. We started for San Francisco by car. We phoned the lawyer
from Santa Barbara and he said to get up to San Francisco immedi
ately because they had filed suit against Griff for bigamy. The
children and I stayed with the Paul Bancrofts and Griff stayed at
a hotel. After a great deal of discussion — because Griff was a
lawyer, too, you see, though he never practiced law, on account
of his hearing — they came to the conclusion that we'd just go
ahead and stay out of the county until it was settled. In the
meantime, she had also filed a suit for kidnapping the children.
Baum: So he was filed against for bigamy and kidnapping. You really did
marry a criminal, didn't you? [laughter]
MWB: He always bragged about how important a person he was because they
had him out on bail of $25,000. It would be like $75,000 today.
He always said they valued him very highly.
First Meeting with Hubert Howe Bancroft
Baum: Where did the Paul Bancrofts live?
MWB: In San Francisco. All the Bancrofts were really terribly good to
us, all. Everybody was. The first thing we did, after spending
the night with them, we went to see Hubert Howe Bancroft. At that
time, he was living on Jackson Street. I think it's 2998, but I
will have to check that for you. We walked up the steps to the
house built by H.E. Huntington. The Bancrofts had bought it after
the fire because they had wanted a place for a coming out party
for his two oldest granddaughters. One of them, Ruth Richards,
had her coming out party there, years back. It looks very much
like, except it isn't as big as, the Huntington home in Pasadena.
We went up these steps and into an entrance hall. This old nurse,
Ella, opened the door, and the boys just grabbed her. They had
been with her at different times and loved her. Griff and I
started up the steps, got up to the landing —
Baum: You said Hubert Howe Bancroft was standing at the top of the stairs
in a bathrobe.
MWB: I came to the landing and I looked up. He looked down with piercing
eyes, and he said, "Do you lie?" His opening words. I was out of
breath. Just then, these two boys shot by me, raced up the steps.
He looked down at them, and one grabbed one leg and one the other,
and he had to hold onto the bannister to keep from their throwing
him. And I never answered the question. I never had to answer
the question. How would you have answered the question?
Baum: Curious questionl He had an idea. I mean, he meant something. He
meant the other wife?
MWB: He realized she had sort of lied, and in his mind, she had betrayed
We went up . That ' s the only unpleasant word that man ever said
to me in his life. Not in his life, in the time I knew him, I mean.
So we sat and talked. The next day was going to be young Philip's
sixth birthday and Nina [Mrs. Philip Bancroft] had asked us to come
out, to go out there to Walnut Creek. Hubert Howe Bancroft was
going out that afternoon. Griff and I took the train out to Walnut
Creek and he met us at Bancroft Station. At that time, they were
shipping so much fruit to New York that they had the station there
named for them. We got off the train with just overnight bags.
He greeted us. He was so excited over the children. We got into
his two-seated buckboard with two very good horses. Nina and her
MWB: three children had also come to greet us. Mr. Bancroft sat with
me on one side and Howe on the other, and started driving right
down the middle of the dirt road. About that time, a car came by
and he yelled, "Road hog!" He was in the very center of the road.
They had to go off on the edge.
Baum: Hubert Howe Bancroft did that?
MWB: Yes. That's what he always did. He drove right smack in the
center of the road. He was doing the driving, you see, all these
The Newlyweds Live with the Bancroft Family
MWB: We had luncheon. It was a birthday party. The children all
started playing around. He knew. Griff had kept him informed of
what had happened about his divorce and everything and Nina had
offered us her house in San Francisco for the winter. He looked
up at me and said, "Margaret, wouldn't you rather live in the
country? Why don't you come here? I'll give you half of my
house." Nina was surprised. Phil was surprised. I said I'd
have to put that up to Griff. "I don't know, Mr. Bancroft. I do
love the country and I would love it myself." So we talked it all
over and decided to go there and put the children in school and
live in Walnut Creek. The house was an old ranch house, built in
an L. It was very easy to divide. He lived very, very simply,
always with this nurse, Ella, in attendance, because his mind was
fine, but his legs were bad. She would soak them in hot water and
cold water and massage. He needed a good deal of waiting on.
Baum: Was Matilda Bancroft dead by this time?
MWB: Oh, yes. Matilda died in 1908. I'm almost positive it was that.
And he had lived in these two houses. He was not doing much
traveling at the time. It suited me and Griff fine. I thought it
was wonderful, because to live in San Francisco in another person's
townhouse wasn't my idea of the way to start with the children.
Very shortly, we packed up and moved over to Walnut Creek.
They improvised a kitchen for him [Hubert Howe Bancroft] and
the two women that took care of him. We had a common screen porch
that came on around to our porch, so we had that connection. We
had a very big living-dining room, big pantry, and a huge kitchen.
Two bedrooms and a bath. The children were charmed with the idea,
you see, because they had been with these cousins a couple of years
before that, and they thought it would be just wonderful to be
there . We put them in school .
The Bancroft Children
Baum: You said Griff had three children.
MWB: Barbara was always with her mother. Barbara, you see, was the
oldest child and she was, when this divorce came, twelve and a
half, I think. She had been with her mother East for two years,
living in New York City. She, naturally, took sides with her
mother. The boys were with Griff at the time. You see, they had
been in Santa Barbara for one year with their Aunt Josie. Then
another year with the English governess. Before that, they had
lived in Coronado, after Ethel left. It was a period of a year
Baum: You mentioned what devils they were. Had they not been properly
disciplined during this time when the family was split?
MWB: They were the most strenuous youngsters you could ever imagine.
They were climbers. You'd look out and there would be one of
them, looking in the window, from a tree. No, I got control of
them very quickly because I had known them, you see. I'd been
going with Griff for a year and a half and they had been with us
a great deal wherever we went, picnicking or whatever we did.
Griff took the children because he loved them so and he was at
loose ends what they were going to do.
Actually, my sister Mickle had two boys who were just a year
younger than each of Griff's boys. I had been with her for some
time, on and off, and had known a great deal about raising them,
and so I just fell into it naturally. Plus, the fact that we had
children visitors at Witch Creek. It was a great haven for the
children in the summertime. I was always guiding them or horse
back riding with them and all things. It just came easily and
naturally to me. It didn't bother me at all. When they needed
discipline, I disciplined them. The boys and I are still friends.
Great friends .
Baum: Going back to your courting days, what did people do for courting
in those years? 1916, I suppose it was.
MWB: Yes. '16 and '17.
Baum: And you were staying with your sister, Mickle?
MWB: I was staying with my sister Mickle and part of the time with
Baum: Mickle lived in San Diego —
MWB: They both lived in San Diego. Their husbands were there in
Well, if you didn't go to the Coronado Hotel on Saturday night,
there was something wrong with you. That was one of the great
pleasures. That summer of '16, Griff rented a house here in La
Jolla and my sister Mickle had a house in Imperial Valley where
she lived. We were together a great deal at that time. Lots of
dancing and then went to every show that came along. Plays,
operas. We welcomed opera here in those days, and whatever there
was, because he owned two small theaters. He had passes and we
always sat there, right in the middle, front, because of his
hearing. Everything had to go around that. There, again, you
see, I was used to being with grown people, older people. I
always liked them better. I liked older men better. In the days
at Witch Creek, you had to know how to get along with people.
Like anything else, you pleased the public. There were just lots
of things to do that summer we were out here, within a few blocks
of each other. My sister Mickle just took it in stride because
she was used to it. She had, altogether, five children. But she
had only three at that time.
Baum: So your family didn't try to prevent you from —
MWB: No. They gently tried to and then — Susie May and Cora were talking
one time, lying on Susie May's bed in her house. I went in and
threw this diamond ring right into the middle of them. Mickle was
there, too. They said, "Well, here we are. All right, we'll
accept him as a brother-in-law." And from that time on, they made
no fuss. When the argument went on over the children, Mickle
testified as to his care of the children and as to my ability to
be able to care for them because I'd cared for her children.
Baum: So part of the question of custody was whether you would be a
satisfactory mother —
MWB: They tried to make it a question, but it was thrown right out of
Baum: Was one of the criticisms that you had been a movie star or a
MWB: Yes. And I grew from what you might call a starlet to a famous
star in the Los Angeles Times .
Baum: Was part of the notoriety of the case based on Ethel Works
Bancroft's family? Wasn't she from a prominent family?
MWB: Oh, yes. Her father, at that time, was Senator John D. Works.
John D. Works was one of the seven or eight men — I've forgotten
which it was — President Wilson called them "those nasty old men"
who prevented us from going into war in 1916. One of the reasons
that Griff didn't get his divorce was because they felt that
divorce was so disapproved of in that time and if Senator Works
had a daughter who was getting a divorce, it would affect the
voting. Now, just think how far we've gone with accepting divorce
from those years. He really didn't, because he was still on
fairly friendly terms with John D. Works and a son, who was also
a judge in Los Angeles. Then when he did file, because by that
time it was known and we wanted to be married, why, that was all
Then they counterf iled, later on, keeping us from getting
married — we were going to be married on my birthday, the tenth of
July. We won it because they slapped this counter-divorce on him,
you see. That's one reason why all the family got so bitter about
it. I was the least bitter, probably, of any of them. I wasn't
bitter. I never once spoke to the children for or against any
thing. I never mentioned their mother. That was one policy that
I held to. Of course, they had to know what happened and they did
go and stay with her a little while, the second summer. She found
them too much to handle. They were too strenuous. So, she just
gave them up. And then she went on living in New York. Barbara
would come and visit us. She was with us the summer after we
were married, right there in Walnut Creek. See, we stayed on
until the following September. Then she came out and stayed with
Baum: So her mother lived in New York.
MWB: She lived in New York until she died.
Baum: It seems such a long way.
MWB: For a child. She came out with John D. Works to Los Angeles and
then they put her on the train for San Francisco. Griff met her
Baum: There seemed to be a lot of travel between New York and this area,
although it's so distant that it startles me how people traveled
rather rapidly from one place to another.
MWB: They did it all the time. For instance, when Hubert Howe Bancroft
and Matilda Griff ing were married in '76, they came out on the
train, and they just barely had through trains at that time. I've
forgotten that date, but we can look it up. Paul was born in San
Francisco and then, when Griff was coming along, the grandmother
MWB: in New Haven, Connecticut wrote and said, "I think you should come
back here. I think that's too wild a country to have your child
born. In case of accidents, you must not have good doctors out
there." So, Matilda, taking this less than two-year-old Paul
Bancroft and she, seven months pregnant, went back by train to
New York and then to New Haven, Connecticut. Griff was born in
that bed you were sleeping in, except it was a big four-poster
double bed. We had it made into twin beds.
Baum: So that's an old Griff ing family heirloom.
MWB: Griff died in that bed. We wanted twin beds. Someone said,
"Margaret, you're ruining a gorgeous antique." I said, "So what?
That's what Griff wants." And that's what he got. We had a very
fine cabinetmaker make it into two beds by just using the poster
on the top.
You read Hubert Howe Bancroft's history of the amount he ran
back and forth to New York when he had to cross the Panama isthmus.
Baum: I know! I couldn't believe it. How often he was traveling. It
was dangerous travel in those days . Was it hard for you to give
up your movie career and marry and suddenly be given a family?
MWB: No. I had always lived with a big family. You see, being the
baby of eight, I never had a room to myself until Elizabeth died.
I was used to a lot of people and I just took those boys in my
stride with the rest of them. We were awfully busy, honey. We
stayed on there at the farm until it was settled and the kidnapping
case was withdrawn and the divorce given to Griff. The original
agreement was that the children were to spend time, the school year,
with her. That's when she tried to do it then and it didn't work
Baum: I see. It awarded custody to her during the school year.
MWB: Yes. And so, she gave up on them.
Baum: They were supposed to go back to New York to live with her?
MWB: No, she was at that time living in Los Angeles. She had come out
to live in Los Angeles during this case.
Baum: They sounded like two rambunctious kids, to live in the city.
MWB: That was the trouble, even in Los Angeles. She found that she was
unable to cope. Griff, Jr. was a very determined young child. A
spade was a spade and he'd stand up to anyone. I would ask him,
MWB: when he had done something wrong, if he had done it. He would say,
"Yes, I did." "Well, you knew you'd be punished." "Yes, I knew
I'd be punished." "Why did you do it?" "Because I wanted to. It
was something fun to do." He would always tell you the truth, but
he was a very determined child. Howe was far less determined.
You'd tell him to do something. He'd say yes, turn the corner, and
do something else. They were exactly opposite. I'd always had to
take care of other people and that's very different from doing your
own thing, as everyone says today.
Baum: Nowadays, a woman would be rather concerned about giving up an
actress' career, which sounds pretty glamorous.
MWB: Yes, but I was very much in love and Griff's life determined my
life. I think that's the answer, because we were very much in
love and very interested in doing things together. We had a
social life. I had my own friends here in San Diego, which threw
him in with a younger group, and then his friends, which threw me
into his group. We were very active in social and civic work. We
immediately went into all sorts of civic things. I was director of
the Red Cross for years; I don't know how many years. Then I was
one of the original members of the Junior League.
Baum: This is all when you were in San Diego. After you lived in Walnut
MWB: Oh, yes.
Baum: I wondered what Griff did while he was in Walnut Creek.
MWB: He was writing a book, which was never a success. It was published. It
was The Interlopers and it's a story about the Japanese infiltration
into the United States, and it became a very unpopular book. An
unpopular theme, you know. At that time, so many people were prej
udiced about allowing any of the orientals to come into the United
Yet, we had wonderful Japanese friends. We always liked the
Japanese people, but it was a case of too many Japanese taking up
too much farmland. It was a question, also, Hubert Howe Bancroft
was interested in and talked about with Griff. He started writing
The Interlopers before we were married. He finished it that year.
Also, that was the year that we started collecting birds' eggs
to teach the boys. I was rather shocked how little they knew of
outdoor life, because they had been with governesses for several
years. They always had governesses. I said I'd take up trees,
plants, and flowers with them and Griff would take up animals and
birds. Griff got started because he had always loved birds, but
MWB: he'd never really studied birds. He began buying books. You can't
study birds unless you also collect eggs. Going to a museum and
seeing them is one thing, but finding them and knowing the habits
and all is something else. The Flight of the Least Petrel is an
example of his intense interest in the birds.* I think we had
collected maybe — I remember we had a case that carried about fifty
sets of these birds' eggs. When we moved south, we had to carry
that in our automobile, tied on top. The eggs were wrapped and
rewrapped. From that, we ended up with one of the big collections
in the country. It's now up at UCLA because our natural history
museum couldn't take care of it properly. The eggs are so delicate
and need to have the right moisture, temperature, and all that.
Baum: You had all those to carry down on top of your car?
MWB: You see, I became interested in collecting and I didn't get very
far. Both of us studied a good deal of the flora of the country
in describing where we were going, and the type of country, and
*Bancroft, Griff ing. Lower California: a cruise; the flight of
the Least Petrel, written on board by Griff ing Bancroft; with
46 illustrations and a map. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1932.
III THE LAST YEAR OF HUBERT HOWE BANCROFT'S LIFE
Walnut Creek Days////
Baum: I was hoping you'd read this letter you received from Hubert Howe
Bancroft. That was when you were still an engaged young lady, is
MWB: Yes. It's on May the fifth, 1917. "My Dear Mistress Margaret,
Your very nice letter, after a journey to New York, came upon me
here." (This was in Chicago.) "It strikes me you are in for it,
though I think you will win out. Griff's mother and I spent a
nice week or two at your house, though I don't suppose you remem
ber it, as it was sixty-four years ago." (Actually, it was
thirteen years.) "Griff's boys are bright, as you say, and hope
will come to something, sometime, if they escape the many death
traps they are constantly setting for themselves. When Griff said
to somebody, 'I suppose you don't approve of the way I have brought
up my boys,' somebody said to Griff, 'Your boys were never brought
up at all.' Sometimes, most always, can't tell, many boys never
brought up turn out to be great men, like Lloyd George, the fore
most man in the world today. HHB"
And that was in answer to a letter I wrote him, thanking him for
a beautiful string of gold beads. He had given his first wife, his
second wife, his two daughters, and his daughter-in-law, always the
same beads and he picked out the gold himself at Shreve's and then
had it made into a certain color of gold. I cried because that was
the last thing in the world I wanted. I wanted a diamond pin that
people were wearing. They weren't wearing gold. I put them away
and didn't wear them for years. Now I wear them. I had them on
yesterday, or today, this morning.
Baum: When you received these gold beads, it seems like that would
represent entering into the family.
MWB: Oh, yes. And this was the letter back. Evidently, he enjoyed
Witch Creek. You could tell that from the way he wrote; he other
wise would have expressed his disapproval.
Baum: He also must have been terribly fond of those little boys.
MWB: He was. He adored his grandchildren. It was the one thing in life
that he was terribly determined that their future should be taken
care of. Shall I start from this — ?
Baum: All right. Let's go to your Walnut Creek life. We've spoken
briefly this morning about the fact that he invited you over to
Walnut Creek and divided his house. I don't think you mentioned
who else was on the property besides yourself and Griff and the
two boys. Mr. Bancroft was there with Ella. What kind of build
ings did you live in?
MWB: This ranch house was an old, wood one. Half of it was built, and
another time, another half, so they were able to divide it off
very easily. He lived so simply. He had two bedrooms, a bath,
and living room; then a big porch, partly closed in, where he
spent a great deal of his time, because much of the time he
couldn't walk very much. But he could watch what was going on in
the farm. Our part of the house had a really big living room and
dining room and a big pantry and a huge kitchen. Did I tell you
about his hiring the cook for me?
Baum: Yes, yes, you mentioned it.
MWB: It was a compound. A house that Nina and Phil lived in was called
"The Chalet" because he loved the houses in Switzerland, which he'd
seen at one time. It was a rough copy of a house like that. Then
he built another house that was sort of wild and on the Japanese
idea. These were surrounded by shrubbery. The office was separate.
Baum: "The Chalet" was the one Nina and Philip lived in? You mentioned
one that was called "The Bamboo"?
MWB: That was the Japanese one.
Baum: Who lived there?
MWB: They didn't live there. They used them for weekend houses until
the war came along, and then Nina moved over there because Phil
had gone to Florida in training to go into the war in Europe. At
that time, there was a great deal of drying of fruit. There were
big packing sheds and drying ground, cutting ground, where they
prepared the fruit to dry. A great deal of that fruit was sent to
Europe, particularly the Scandinavian countries.
Baum: What kind of fruit?
MWB : Pears , peaches , apricots , and an enormous amount of walnuts . As
time went on, they settled down to really nothing but pears and
walnuts. Phil was really running that, along with his law business,
until he went to war. Paul was doing most of it. He was also in
war work. Grandfather Bancroft was not strong enough to walk around
and really supervise very much of it.
Baum: So Paul also participated in supervising the ranch?
MWB: Yes. Later, the ranch went to Paul and Phil. We had the San Diego
property and the two boys had the San Francisco — the farm at Walnut
Creek and then the property in San Francisco was divided, and then
some of the San Diego property.
Baum: Did you say Mr. Bancroft wasn't able to walk around? What was his
MWB: Lack of circulation in his legs and in his feet.
Baum: He always suffered from asthma.
MWB: Asthma. He's the one who said that the pity of asthma was it never
kills, it just made you miserable.
Baum: Did all the children go to school?
MWB: Yes. They were enrolled in a school that was about a mile from
there. The children sometimes rode bicycles; some of them, horse
back. On rainy days, we took them to school.
Baum: These were just your children and Phil and Nina's. Is that right?
MWB: Yes. And then Lilly —
Baum: Four children.
MWB: That would be five. Phil had three: Anne, Lucy, and Philip, Jr.
We had Griff, Jr. and Hubert Howe III. That was his official name.
He was always called Howe. Just across the road was the A.L.
[Bancroft] place. HHB and A.L. had a fight, which was never mended.
It was over testimony that was given by A.L. after they had com
pletely decided the accident was caused one way, and then when he
got on the stand, he testified that it was caused by another mistake.
I guess Hubert Howe didn't receive the insurance he thought he should
have. And won.
Baum: That was an elevator accident, wasn't it?
Baum: Was that in the Bancroft building?
MWB: Hubert Howe Bancroft was very embittered, so he planted a row of
eucalyptus trees to divide them. He had two rows coming in the
L road in the back. But to retaliate, A.L. put a big pig pen
just on his side of the eucalyptus. The A.L. grandchildren were
told not to play with Hubert Howe's grandchildren. So, while he
was there, or around, they didn't. But they were constantly sneak
ing through the fence and enjoying each other's company. They were
the very attractive three children of Frank Bancroft and Dr.
Eleanor Bancroft. He was Dr. Frank Bancroft. He was a scientist.
Baum: Dr. Frank and Eleanor?
MWB : Dr . Eleanor .
Baum: She was a doctor?
MWB: She was a medical doctor at Mills College for many years. She was
there for seventeen years .
Baum: Was that Frank's wife?
MWB: Wife. Yes. He was the first person chosen by the Rockefeller
Foundation as one of the best scientists that they could get.
They had been in New York and then they came home just before we
got there. He fell and broke his hip and was never able to go
back to work again. But he stayed there and ran their ranch. We
were all excellent friends.
Baum: That's what I was going to ask.
MWB: We were all excellent friends and we just shied around because it
was all another century and another way of life, of course.
Baum: Was A.L. still living at that time?
MWB: No, not when we got there.
Baum: So you just had to stay separate when Hubert Howe was around?
MWB: Oh, yes. They had three children, a daughter and two sons. It
was awfully funny; we stayed friends always.
Baum: What were Phil and Nina like? Were they compatible with you and
MWB: Oh, yes. We were the greatest of friends. I stayed friends till
the day — marvelous friends because Nina had such a respect and
love for Mr. Bancroft, Hubert Howe, and Griff had at one time,
way back, had an argument with his father, but he had gotten over
that, and so we were all the best of friends. Nina had a marvelous
mind. I think she was one of the best-read women I ever knew in my
life. And she had a great sense of humor. You knew her only when —
Baum: Yes, she was ailing when I met her.
MWB: — she was very sick. We had an awful lot of fun together, all of
us. At Thanksgiving time, mainly because I had the big house, the
big room, and also because it was neutral ground, we had both
Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner at our house. We did that; I
did it. Lou and Ella never saw eye to eye, so they were sort of
hands-off . Lou was Paul's wife, Louise Hazzard Bancroft.
Baum Who came to your Thanksgiving dinner?
MWB: There was Grandfather Bancroft. Ella came to dinner too. No, I
guess Ella didn't. She and her daughter sat on the side and
helped. The Paul Bancrofts and Paul, Jr.; and Nina and her three
children; Aunt Josie, Josephine Griff ing, who lived in Santa
Barbara, was with us; and Griff, the two boys, and myself. The
same thing at Christmas time.
Baum: Was Aunt Josie Matilda's sister?
MWB: She was. Younger sister. She was the only one left at that time
of the Griff ing family. She lived in Santa Barbara. A remarkable
New England woman, with all the dignity, charm, and decision.
Plenty of decision.
I'm trying to think who else was in that group, but I think
that was it. It was war time. Everything was in a state of
stagnation, in a way, except the war effort. Mr. Bancroft was
lonely. He was used to having Phil come in so much when he was
in San Francisco, and Paul, too. They were both so busy with the
war that he enjoyed staying out at the farm, most of the time.
But he'd go in. After Griff got there, he would drive him.
Otherwise, sometimes he'd go in by train, or Nina would take him
in. Then he would stay for a few days.
Baum: How long a trip was that in terms of hours?
MWB: If we went by train, and then picked up a streetcar, it would be a
couple of hours. Most of the time, we went by automobile.
Baum: You took the ferry over, then.
MWB : Always .
Baum: Was Mr. Bancroft still paying attention to his business, or was he
completely out of that?
MWB: No, he went down to the office when he was in San Francisco, maybe
one day, for a very short time. They had a manager there. Paul
was there, able to take care of it. The farm was very busy because
they wanted as much fruit raised as possible. They had a Japanese
manager and mostly Japanese help. In the summer, there were some
Japanese, some Mexicans, and different types of people who worked
there and who would come back year after year. The migratory
Baum: Can you remember what Hubert Howe Bancroft did with his time when
he was out there at Walnut Creek?
MWB: He was one of the greatest readers that I've ever known in my life,
and he used to have shipped to him, from an agent in New York, books
by the box, as they came from the printing press. He averaged a
book a day, of any and every kind, on any kind of subject you ever
knew of. He also read the papers. He was writing to people,
almost anything that he thought. He always had a pad, envelopes,
stamps, in his jacket. He had a desk there, too. If he had a
thought, particularly, say, writing to Phil, or even when he was in
Walnut Creek, he'd write to Paul over in San Francisco. Dash it
off in a hurry and sign it HHB, seal it, and that was it; it was
ready for the mail. The same thing when he was getting letters
constantly from editors all over the country and from various and
sundry people. He answered them, immediately. He always cut the
envelope open and stretched it out so he could use that for scratch
paper. The letter was either torn up or filed away. One of the
women there helped him a little bit with that. He had a terrific
interest, as he spoke about it, in the greatest men in the world.
He had that all through the people that he followed ; he was
interested. If they did something very worthwhile, he wrote them
a letter and nearly always got one back. I don't know where those
thousands and thousands of letters —
Baum: I was going to ask you. I wonder if he kept carbons. He wouldn't
have because he was writing on his pad, wasn't he?
MWB: Just writing on a pad. No, they're gone with the wind, absolutely.
Baum: Were there any special subjects he kept track of, like maybe
MWB: He did a lot of reading of that because he was deeply interested in
buying different types of trees, anything that had to do with the
growing of the pears or the walnuts, which by this time he had
MWB: settled down to. Also fruit, not fruit trees; flowering trees.
He was very interested in his own garden and constantly had
Japanese people working around his garden. Of course, he had an
office right there on the place and had a man who did some
secretarial work for him, but most of that type of work went to
the San Francisco office.
Baum: How much part did he play in the running of the farm?
MWB: He had done, of course, an enormous amount, but little by little,
he had to cut down on it until the two brothers ran it, and he was
trying to help make some decisions.
He could be so funny sometimes. I remember sitting one Sunday
afternoon with him on this wide porch. They had a special detective
watching, going around the entire orchards to keep people from
stealing fruit. There were no fences. They'd pick up a lug and
just go off with half a box of walnuts or pears or anything. The
man came in one day with a car coming behind him. He'd arrested
this man for stealing a half a lug of walnuts. The man came up to
him and stuck out his hand and he said, "Mr. Bancroft, I'm Jim
HHB put his hands behind his body, like that [wouldn't shake
hands], and he said, "Mr. Jones, what is your business?" He said,
"I'm in the grocery business," on a certain street in San Francisco.
HHB said, "What would you think of it if I walked in, picked up a
basket, your basket, and put a half a dozen cans of vegetables or
fruit, or anything, in it?" "Well," he said, "that's a different
thing. These walnuts are just lying on the ground." Mr. Bancroft
said, "Do you realize that I have dozens and dozens of men that
are picking that fruit up, six days out of the week?" And he
turned to the police officer and said, "Arrest him," and turned
around and walked away. The man stood and swore, and got in the
car, after the policeman had given him a citation, and that was it.
Things like that, you see. And, of course, he was absolutely
right, because it was marked all the way around that it was private
property and people were not allowed on it.
He was always watching things like that. He watched the pennies,
in every way. He gave Ella so much money to run the house, as to
buying the food. Of course, he wouldn't acknowledge that the
prices had gone up. We had a basement; we had one side of it and
they had the other side. So Ella would take just a few of our
potatoes, onions, anything. In those days, you had a lot of winter
fruit and vegetables down there. She'd say, "It all comes out of
the same pocket. It doesn't make any difference." This Japanese
cook I had would come in and be utterly bewildered by this, you see.
MWB: He'd say, "But you must think I steal. I steal. All gone. The
fruit or the vegetables that were down there." I'd say, "No, don't
pay any attention to that. Mr. Bancroft's paying the whole bill."
"I know, but you don't know what that woman takes." This was a
constant battle. But Mr. Bancroft had an idea that she should run
that house on two dollars a day per person. We bought the food we
were eating, but we weren't paying for anything else, so a few
potatoes meant nothing to me. It was just typical of him that he
had settled on two dollars a day for each person there.
Baum: And during that wartime inflation.
MWB: Oh, yes.
Baum: Had Ella been with the family a long time?
MWB: Yes. She came to nurse Mrs. Bancroft, Matilda Bancroft, who died
in 1908. I guess it was a couple of years before. Then she stayed
on as part housekeeper and, as he became more ill, had more trouble
with his legs and everything, then she stayed there.
Baum: Was she of any ethnic derivation?
MWB: Irish Catholic. I think I spoke about that in that book, and he
[HHB] used to tease us so about her. She was always defending her
church. He'd tell her something that was derogatory to the church,
and she'd get perfectly infuriated at him. There was a lot of
jawing between the two of them. She'd been there so long that it
didn't make much difference.
Baum: I have read that, for a while, Hubert Howe was very religious and
that he'd become an agnostic in his last years.
MWB: Yes. That was true. His first wife was a very religious woman.
She converted him by writing to him all the time.
Baum: Getting back to the religious point, there was something that
Philip Bancroft said. That it worried Hubert Howe that his fine
mind was not going to last, that there was not going to be an
afterlife. That he had believed in an afterlife, but he no longer
did. Did he ever express that?
MWB: Yes, he did. Now, I have no faith at all. I think when I'm dead,
I'm gone completely. There's nothing. As quickly as possible,
I'm going to start raising daisies. My body will go back to earth,
and that's that. I can't see that there's a possible hereafter.
MWB: I don't think his mind had gone that far. It was too prevalent,
the hereafter. His mind came from giving up the church when they
wouldn't give us a dispensation [for marriage]. The reason they
didn't give us a dispensation, because it went up to the bishop,
was the fact that the Bancrofts and the Works were very prominent
people at that time and it would be a very bad thing to acknowledge
that I had gotten a dispensation to marry a divorced man. Actually,
by the canon of the church, -I should have been given a dispensation
because Mrs. Ethel Bancroft was never baptized. They were Unitarians.
I don't think she used any church later on, but at that time, and
according to the church, they didn't accept it as marriage if you
were not baptized, you see. You go into limbo. In the early days,
when we were children, that's the belief we had. It made me mad
that they wouldn't give it just because they happened to be prom
inent people, so I started studying a lot of religions and ended up
with nothing. What are you?
Baum: I was brought up a Unitarian.
MWB: Well, there you are. That was about as good as anything. That was
the Works family, you see. Now, my cousins, over a period of years,
belonged to a Unitarian church.
Baum: It probably made it easier for you to fit into that Bancroft family
than if you had been a devout Catholic.
MWB: Yes. Though for a year I did go to church without going to communion.
Of course, that's a vital part of it. Confession and communion.
Griff never once ever said, well, it's nonsense, or anything. He
simply said he was raised that way and that's what he was. He was
an agnostic. I don't think he believed anything. I think he
thought that we lived and when we died, that was it.
Baum: Did you ever have any conversations about religion with Hubert Howe?
MWB: No, except his joking, generally. Or teasing Ella. Then he'd say
to her, "You know, Margaret's a Catholic. You ask her." And she'd
try so hard to get me to defend her, you see. Of course, at that
time, I was very much up on my religion and I would just do the
best I could and tell her not to pay any attention to Mr. Bancroft
because he's an agnostic. Then she didn't know what the word
"agnostic" was. It went on from one thing to another.
Baum: Did Mr. Bancroft — I guess I have to call you all by your first
names because you were all Bancrofts there.
MWB: HH, I call him.
Baum: You call him HH. We always call him HHB at The Bancroft Library.
He is so commonly discussed as HHB. Well, did HHB take much time
with colleagues? Were there visitors from the University?
MWB: Very little. By this time, his mind had narrowed down to his
children and grandchildren. He really didn't want to be worried,
I'd say. He was interested in the times that the children were
playing together. Now, he did do one thing and we can talk that
over for a minute. Then we can go on to it. He was so interested
in everything that the children were doing, and he was more
interested in their getting inherited money. He had his will so
that no one could break it. If they tried to break it, they had
to break wills that ran back, practically the same type of will,
but had quite a change, so they'd have to break it. His daughter,
at one time, he thought, might break the will because they only
left annuities. So, he'd be talking [about] that with Griff.
He believed not to give anyone money — I mean, give it outright —
until they were at least thirty-five years old. If any one of his
boys had died before thirty-five, the other boys took over, until
that one was past thirty-five. He very strongly believed in that
for the grandchildren as well. But he wanted to be sure that his
property went to his grandsons. The daughters were supposed to
have been married and taken care of, but then he took care of
Lucy. To this day, she's been taken care of. She never married,
so that was different.
At one time, Lucy tried to run the ranch, and she was something
of a misfit in the family, but a sweet, dear, kind person. She
went to New York and worked with the adoption of children, of
children that were rejected. She'd have things done for them, for
their eyes, teeth, or this and that and the other. Maybe children
that were three or four or six years old. She took one boy and
adopted him. He was German, an utterly unprepossessing child, but
he grew up, and his children were particularly nice looking. He
married a French girl, but Hubert Howe resented very much their
using the name of Bancroft. He was very mad at Lucy for doing
that. He thought, especially because of the inheritance and all
that, that they should have used another name.
Baum: You mean, HHB objected to Lucy giving the adopted children the name
Baum: So he felt strongly about the family line, the bloodline.
MWB: Oh, yes. Terribly strongly. Lucy I don't think had seen him for
several years before he died, and I don't think Kate had seen him,
because Kate went to Europe. Kate was his daughter by his first
wife and she thought everything in Europe was better than in the
United States. She was bringing up her children, half the time in
Europe. But he wanted to be the grandfather of those girls. They
were very handsome and very attractive, and they did have this
coming-out party for Ruth Richards at that house. I guess it was
the last party they had before Grandmother Bancroft died. That
was after the fire and after they were settled. He sent for them
to come home. They were in Dresden.
Baum: These are Kate's children?
MWB: Kate's children. Two daughters. Now her granddaughter is living
right here. Her name is Dickie Swisher, and it's Mrs. Ruth Swisher.
Baum: Kate was married then.
MWB: Yes. She married Charles 0. Richards.
Baum: So she was Kate Bancroft Richards.
MWB: Yes. These two daughters were very handsome and very gifted women.
Ruth Richards that I speak of, Dickie Swisher 's mother, married a
very wealthy man in Philadelphia, by the name of Charles Lineaweaver,
A much older man, but a very charming person. Of course, he never
knew Hubert Howe. The younger girl was Catherine Richards. She
married Edgar Allan Poe II; he's over one and down from Edgar Allan
Poe, the author. They have children, grandchildren.
Baum: HHB was very close to Kate in the early years.
MWB: Very, very close to her, until after she married, and he was very
fond of Dick, they called him, C.O. Richards. Kate did not divorce
him, but she was separated from him for years. They lived here in
San Diego. Mr. Bancroft built a house for them on Third Street,
on his property. It was just a block from where their own house
was. Kate used to teach music. She had a magnificent voice, just
as HHB had. She could have gone, really, into opera, with her
voice and her carriage and her looks. She was a very aristocratic
looking woman. Kate took her children, two daughters, to Europe.
I think it was about in 1904 and they were over there for two years
in French schools. Then HHB sent for them to come home immediately
after the San Francisco earthquake. They came back and lived in
the San Francisco house, which had been rented. There was no
rapport between HHB and Kate after that. He was, I think,
thoroughly disgusted that she quit her husband. As I say, they
never were divorced. Kate and her husband had Sunday lunch
MWB: together when they lived in the same city. The girls stayed with
him part of the time. He was a great friend of ours, of Griff's.
I think I knew him better than his own daughters knew him.
The Foes lived in Baltimore. They both lived very social lives.
They're both dead.
Baum: According to my figuring, Kate must have been about fifty years old
at the time.
MWB: She was born in 1860.
Baum: She would have been in her fifties at the time you entered the
family , then .
MWB: Yes. She couldn't have been a more wonderful person and she stood
by Griff. Griff was always her favorite of the boys because he had
such a keen sense of humor and did stand up to his father. Philip
was HHB's favorite because Philip never argued with him. He
tweedled his way, sort of influenced his father to do things,
which was the right way to handle him. Paul was a little austere
and was more aloof, and Griff was more outspoken. But in his last
years, after Griff's wife left, from that time on, HHB was right
down there fighting with Griff to keep those sons. That was the
main object of the whole thing.
Baum: I remember Philip said that of the three boys, it was Griff who was
always in a scrape. When they were little boys, it was always
Griff who was in some kind of trouble.
MWB: Oh, yes. Paul just stopped this side of the fence and Phil behind
him, and Griff went over the fence and got into trouble. Absolutely.
He had his keen humor that could be very sarcastic. Never was to
me, but to other people. It was saying or telling a joke or some
thing, always at the right second, and something that was hard to
repeat, but was terribly funny. He just had people always laughing.
Let's see where we go from here.
Baum: I wondered about other people on the ranch, such as the workmen.
Did HHB deal with any of them?
MWB: Very little at the time I was there.
Baum: Yes. I realize that you only knew him in the last year of his life,
MWB: Yes. I think he did, yes. He was very active. You know, he had
this bad asthma. When it would come on him, he would have his horse
saddled, ride it down to the ferry, go across, and ride all the way
MWB: to Walnut Creek, which took him part of the day. Then Matilda
would follow in the buckboard with a driver, or tutor, or governess,
whichever they had, and the children. They'd stay over there for
maybe five or six days. Then he'd get another attack of asthma and
then'd he'd go back, reverse it. They would make long trips in the
buggy, and then later on with automobile. They would drive all the
way, I remember, from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, one time.
Just a retinue. At that time, they had two buggies and horses, and
two of the children riding.
Baum: This was when the children were really young.
MWB: When they were growing up. He was a very restless person. He
blamed it on his asthma.
Baum: I know he had to change climate when he would get an asthma attack.
MWB: Yes. And that was the thing that bothered him so.
Baum: It must have been a hard life for Matilda.
MWB: It was a hard life for her. And she was very small. They always
had to put a box under her feet because her feet couldn't get down
to the ground. Yet, you read that book that I found there at the
farm one day about their visit to Mexico. I thought that was a
charming book. You can see the energy that she put into those
things, but it wore her out. I think she was in her early sixties
when she died. She kept up with him.
Those letters. Shall we look into a little bit of it now?
Trip to Yosemite
Baum: All right.
MWB: Ready? [reading from her notes] "One day Mr. Bancroft and I were
sitting on the porch, possibly three weeks after we had moved in.
He was talking about the beauties of Yosemite and asked if I didn't
enjoy it. I answered, 'I have never been to Yosemite.' 'All right,
we'll take you there. To see it in the fall colors was so wonder
ful.' With that, he yelled for Griff and for Nina. They came on
the run, thinking something awful had occurred. Before they arrived,
I said firmly, 'We have to be with the boys.' With that he turned
to Nina, 'Will you take care of Margaret's boys a while? Griff and
I will take her to Yosemite. She has never been there.' Nina was
MWB: wonderful. She not only took care of the boys; she packed a huge
lunch basket so we could picnic every day. That night, Nina told
me exactly how to handle the trip.
Ella was a grand old Irish woman, very Catholic, and always
defending the church against Mr. Bancroft's playful jokes. She
had been with the family before HH's wife died, nursing her through
a long illness. Then she stayed on until he died. Of course, she
had her peculiarities. One of them was we were bound to encounter
bandits. HHB's response was, 'Ella, you tuck this thousand dollars
into your hat . And then Griff and I will carry some change in our
pockets and empty them in a hurry to the bandits.' So Ella put the
hundred-dollar bills under the wide band of her hat. First, the
wind blew her hat off, so I gave her a scarf to secure it onto her
head. Next time I looked, I saw the bills halfway out of the scarf.
So I said, 'Ella, the money is showing.' She screamed so loud that
Griff stopped the car. After that, she tucked them in her ample
bosom. According to the service rendered." I read this to you,
but I don't think —
MWB: The regular way of life was when Mr. Bancroft tipped.
Baum: But that's not quite clear there. You were talking about Mr.
Bancroft's habit of non-tipping, weren't you?
MWB: Yes, it went with this trip. So Nina told me to fill my pockets
full of quarters, half dollars, and dollars; all in silver, in
those days. So I always forgot my coat or handbag, then went back
to the table to leave a tip.
The greatest joy was our roadside picnics. Mr. Bancroft had to
sit on the running board, after walking around to limber up his
legs. After lunch, Griff stretched out for a nap. Driving a big
car over those winding roads was no easy job. Ella snoozed in the
back seat, and I sprawled on the ground while HH told me stories
of California, of the early '50s. So often he would use his big
black Stetson as a map. With a piece of white chalk, he drew a
map of California, sketched in the mountains and rivers, always
marking the old gold mines with a wee house, always explaining
carefully. I still have the picture of this in my mind.
Baum: He did that on his hat?
MWB: Yes. Flattened out this big soft Stetson hat. At the end of an
hour, he would say, "School's out." Then he would burst into some
song while we repacked the lunch basket. Remind me to tell you
something about that later. We stayed at the Sentinel Hotel for a
MWB: week, driving all over the valley. October is usually a gorgeous
time there. We were lucky to hit the vivid coloring. One morning,
Griff came to the table with a San Francisco paper, the day before.
A front-page story and picture of HHB, telling of his last book,
the last book he had written, These Latter Days. HH said, "Don't
spoil our breakfast. Sure to have a lot of criticism and mistakes.'
When he walked out of the dining room, several people rose to greet
him, but he stalked on, oblivious to the stir.
Our trip back was made very leisurely, going through the gold-
mining country, stopping off to see the old towns. We spent two
nights en route. We picnicked the entire time. Nina had put in
exactly the food and we replenished it. His singing was always a
joy to me because he seemed to know an unlimited amount of songs
from opera, light opera, church songs, hymns, and bawdy stories
from the days of the Gold Rush, stories, you know, told in songs.
The whole time, he was reliving those early days.
Baum: I don't think I can recall anything about him singing in the other
MWB: He had a very good voice and he sang in the choir in San Francisco,
when they belonged to a church. I'll have to run that down as to
what church it was .
Baum: When he was married to Emily.
MWB: Yes. But he had a great love for music.
We got home in due time and the children were all right. Every
thing was fine. Then he kept on, after that, almost every day.
While the children were in school, I would go after luncheon and
spend at least an hour with him. It was usually recalling the
early days, and what he hoped and expected, that the children
would follow through and get a good education. He was, subcon
sciously, I guess, instructing me as to what he'd like to see
those children do, thinking that maybe I'd have the influential
drift to have them do what he wanted.
But he was constantly telling the children that they had to
work for a living, regardless if they had money. Now, he one
time told the children he had fifty of the greatest events in
history, that changed history. If they would learn these events
and a little bit about them, he would pay them fifty dollars. I
think, if I remember correctly, Griffing and Anne were the two
that got it. And he gave the others some money, besides. But
then he took them to the bank and said, "Now, you deposit this
money for your future use. You cannot buy chewing gum with it."
MWB: I have some letters here from Paul and Griff ing and Howe that I
thought you would like to read. We'll go into those. Now, if you
want to ask some more questions —
Baum: How long was this Yosemite trip?
MWB: About ten days. We stayed there one whole week, and every day we
drove a different direction and picnicked. Of course, he and Griff
would discuss, we'd all discuss, a lot of different things. He
just enjoyed and loved the out-of-doors and the coloring at that
time — reds, and all the mountain coloring is perfectly beautiful
Baum: Did he and Griff talk about business matters, or did they talk
about his philosophy and things like that?
MWB: One day it would be business, and the next day it would be his
philosophy or his writing the books or his trouble with different
people, what was expected of him. Sometimes he discussed the
workmen as Griff knew them, or the different writers.
Baum: The writers that had worked on the histories.
MWB : Yes .
Baum: So he was really giving you and Griff some of his past history of
how his work had gone.
IV EARLIER MEMORIES OF THE HUBERT HOWE BANCROFT FAMILY
[Interview 2: March 10, 1977 ]##
Baum: Today we were going to talk about things that people told you
about HHB before you knew him, anecdotes and things that you
picked up from your husband and others. Maybe the best way would
be if we read this letter from Griff ing, Jr. to start with,
although I hope you'll let me take it and Xerox it.
MWB: Oh, yes, you can take it and keep it.
Baum: But you want me to read it to you?
Baum: So you can remember what it says?
Baum: All right. This is from Griff ing Bancroft, Captiva Island,
Florida: "Dear Margaret, As I told you on the phone, my memories
of HHB are so mixed up with what was actual reality and what was
family legend, that I cannot for certain guarantee all of this to
be verbatim truth." (Well, that's honest of him.) "I can recall
his giving each of us grandchildren fifty dollars for memorizing
what he listed as the fifty most important, of his, dates in
history. Today I do not remember any of his dates. It seems to
me that he also had us learn the capitals and principal products
of each state, with a rhyme, starting in the far Northeast with
Augusta, Maine, tar, pitch, and turpentine. That is all I can
remember of that, if it, indeed, came from him. I know we grand
children were told that our cousin, Martin Bancroft, had to sneak
on to our farm if we played together there, because if HHB caught
him, he would whip him back through the barrier trees between his
farm and ours. This, of course, because he was alleged to have
carried on his feud with his younger brother, A.L., even unto the
third generation. I remember Dad being very proud of the fact that
his father, HHB, had a letter delivered to him that was addressed
simply, Mr. Bancroft, California. Then there were, of course, all
those stories about his desire for male offspring solely, e.g. that
he stopped sleeping with his wife, who had given him three sons,
after she produced a daughter, Lucy. But he credited Phil's first
two daughters to Nina, but when a grandson was produced, proudly
said, 'Philip had a son.' Much of this, it seems to me, is belied
by the fact that he spoke warmly of his daughter, Kate, and used
her as a secretary in interviewing many of the pioneers. Of his
resentment of the automobile, he is said to have kept his horse and
buggy in the middle of country roads, and when a motorist had to
plough through a ditch to get by, he would shout at him, 'Road hog!'"
You saw that yourself, didn't you?
[continues reading letter] "A story that Dad used to tell.
When his wife, Matilda, was going away for two weeks, she made
him promise to write her every day. Disliking to have this hanging
over his head, he saw her off, returned to his office, dictated
fourteen letters, and instructed his secretary to mail one each
day. I don't know if any of this is helpful, but I'll send it
along. Love, Griff."
I think that's a charming letter,
I'd like to make a copy of
Oh, yes. Absolutely.
I can see Griff ing, Jr. is a writer, too.
Both of them are.
These other letters I'm not going to take, because I think they
have other material in them that we wouldn't want to include.
But I hope I can get Griff ing, Jr., when he's here, to tell some
stories himself. He must have some good recollections.
Yes, you see, he was old enough. He was ten. Well, he was eleven
years old when Grandfather was living.
Today we're going to talk about things that you learned from your
husband and others about HHB before you knew him yourself. I was
wondering if Griff had told you about his childhood , as related to
MWB: Yes, Griff ing talked a great deal about his childhood. They really
had a wonderful life because they had always a home in San Francisco,
They never went to school. They had governesses first and then
tutors, because Mr. Bancroft didn't want to be confined in his life
by his children being in school. He traveled, and I think I told
you of his going horseback from the house in San Francisco to Walnut
Creek because of his asthma. Then Mrs. Bancroft would follow. Did
we go through that?
Baum: You did. But I'm not sure for the tape.
MWB: He'd wake up with this very bad attack of asthma, would have his
horse saddled — they had a stable — and would take the first ferry
to Oakland and then ride a distance which was about twenty miles.
It may have been less because he was probably riding trails part
of the time. And they had the house at Walnut Creek always staffed.
He'd stay there, go on with his writing just the same, because he
had material every place, wherever he went. Then Mrs. Bancroft
would pack the children into the buckboard. She was so tiny that
she had to have a box underneath, so she could put her feet down
on the floor. Maybe one or two of the boys on horses, riding.
Go to the ferry and get over there. Maybe they'd stay a week or
two weeks, as long as he felt well, and then one morning he'd be
gone. Sometimes Mrs. Bancroft wouldn't even hear him. [He would]
get up and sneak out, get on his horse, and ride back to San
Francisco. They also traveled a great deal. They'd just pack the
children and take them East or take them to see their relatives —
once they went into the Mississippi — or into Yosemite. Another
time they'd go clear to Santa Barbara.
Baum: This was with horse and wagon.
MWB: Horse and wagon. They always had at least two of the children on
horseback. They would stay in Santa Barbara maybe a month because
Miss Josephine Griff ing was there at that time; there was the
grandmother Griff ing living and her sister, Mary. Matilda would
visit with them.
Baum: So Mary and Josephine were Matilda's sisters, and her mother would
be out visiting them in Santa Barbara?
MWB: They all moved to Santa Barbara. They built a home there and they
thought Santa Barbara was about half way from San Francisco to San
Diego. Now, HHB built this large home in San Diego, at Fourth and
Fir. They would come down, often, for the whole winter, and live
in San Diego .
Baum: The HHB family?
MWB: Yes. Then he bought the farm at Spring Valley, which, again, was
fifteen miles out from San Diego. It was all bought, I think, from
'86 to '88 or '89. I remember he stopped. They had a bad fire in
Baum: That must be in San Francisco.
MWB: He was very frightened about what was happening, about his property
and all, and so he stopped construction for a little while on his
Baum: On which house?
MWB: On the house here in San Diego.
Baum: Do you recall how he got interested in property in San Diego?
MWB: Yes. I think it was 1886 that he and Alanzo Horton came down from
San Francisco to San Diego, which was maybe at that time a two-day
Baum: On ship.
MWB: Ship. The old Orizaba. Father Horton was planning New Town.
He bought a lot of property and started it because he thought it
was close — it was right beside the waterfront. Old Town was some
distance from the water. He persuaded Mr. Bancroft, or Mr.
Bancroft persuaded him, I'm not sure which, to sell Mr. Bancroft
a lot directly back of the Grant Hotel, which was at Fourth; I
guess it was Fourth and B. It was directly back of what is now
the Grant Hotel. He, in turn, was to start a library for Mr.
Horton. He sent him two thousand books for this library.
Baum: So this was sort of an exchange. Land for books.
MWB: It was an exchange. I'm not certain, but I think that one or two
of those books still are in the library.
Baum: Was this for Mr. Horton 's private library?
MWB: No. This was a community library. Horton built a hotel called
Horton House. He wanted to make this the very center of town.
They were starting shops and stores. People were buying these
lots and they were auctioning them off. One of those letters
that I have, you know, is to Mrs. Horton. He had never seen San
Diego until then.
Baum: Do you think that was 1886 or earlier? 1886 was the year of the
big fire in San Francisco.
MWB: Then it might have been a year or two earlier. I'm quite sure we
could find that right here in Literary Industries. Yes. But it
was very close to that fire. He was in San Diego; it was '86, I'm
sure, because he was in San Diego when he got word, a telegram
telling him that the whole building was burned. Kate was married
at that time. She was married to Charles Olcutt Richards and they
were living here in San Diego. I heard from Mr. Richards that he
was so upset and so disturbed about it, and he immediately got on
the train and went back to San Francisco.
Baum: He was so upset about the fire?
MWB: Yes. And he stopped any operation that he had here until he found
out where he stood. There was always a question of whether they
would pay insurance, and what was burned.
Baum: I think he did lose a lot financially, that it set them back,
MWB: Yes, it did. I'm not sure how much damage was done, because it
was at that time that I think he moved his library, or had just
moved it to Valencia Street. That we'll have to look up and find
Baum: No. I think that's right. He didn't lose the library, but he lost
MWB: It was a bad fire.
Baum: So later he did continue the building in San Diego. He built the
MWB: Oh, yes. He built a very pleasant, a very handsome home with a
big entrance way and a lovely stairway that went up. That was
one that they wanted to rent to us in 1900, my family. That was
really the first time I ever saw Griff. At that time, I was seven
years old .
HHB liked San Diego and he was very interested in developing
this farm. At that time, olives were easy to grow and didn't have
to be watered. They had a good spring there, but they didn't want
to have anything which he had to water. It turned out to be several
hundred acres of olives. He was extremely interested in developing
that because he, at that time, felt that the climate of San Diego
agreed with him very much better than it did at San Francisco.
But he really made it his second home. It was never his first home.
Then he built a home across the street from him for his daughter,
Kate Richards, and his son, and that's where the two daughters were
raised as young children.
Baum: Kate and her daughters.
MWB: Yes. He wanted his family as close around him as it could possibly
be, and at that time he was very fond of, and always was, of Mr.
Richards. He resented very much when she went off to Europe and
left him. Just took up a separate life. But she was very
interested, Kate was, in music, and had this beautiful voice. If
it had been now, I think she would have been in grand opera because
she had the looks and the voice, but really gentlewomen did not go
into opera, you know. They were always a little suspect. Yet, he
loved the music himself and they had musicals. You asked me about
what people used to do. I think you will find in that box, maybe,
the clippings about giving musicals in their home. It was big
enough so they had dancing. On Griff's twenty-first birthday, I
remember the clippings of his celebration.
Baum: Was that here in San Diego? So the Bancroft family came down here
MWB: The whole family would come when he came. They might be a few days
late, but they all came, and then they all went back. There was
always, besides the tutor, usually at least one helper. Sometimes
there'd be a tutor and a governess. The governess would be for
Lucy — a combination governess and nurse. They just traveled en
masse. They had horses there in San Diego and horses out in Spring
Valley. They had horses in San Francisco, buggies. They had
everything, horses and buggies, at Walnut Creek.
Baum: Did they have a large house out at Spring Valley?
MWB: No. I would love for you to go out there to see exactly what's
Baum: That's the one that's becoming an historic landmark now.
MWB: It is. They did that years ago. They wanted me to take the
presentation-making, and I said definitely no, not as long as
there was a relative there. Ruth Lineaweaver wasn't well enough,
so I asked Dickie to do it, the daughter.
Baum: Who's Dickie?
MWB: Dickie is now Dickie Swisher, but she was Dickie Lineaweaver.
Her name was Ruth, for her mother, but they always called her
Dickie because they expected her to be a boy.
Baum: Oh, she's Kate's daughter.
MWB: Kate's granddaughter. Lineaweaver is the daughter and Swisher is
the granddaughter. There was just the one granddaughter.
Baum: You talked about that before. I just got a little mixed up here.
I'm going to have to draw some sort of chart. Anyway, the HHB
family had a rather smallish house out at Spring Valley, is that
MWB: Yes. It was a house built by a Mr. Porter, way back, with some
lumber that came off of a wrecked ship. It is a very small place.
Then he built another house, not so far away, that later was used
by Nina Bancroft and Phil, at times, in the summertime. They were
still moving en masse.
Baum: Did Hubert Howe Bancroft then supervise the farm at Spring Valley,
or did he put that in charge of someone else?
MWB: He would supervise it, but he always had a manager. Then, when
Griff came here to live after he finished Harvard, he lived in
this big house. Half the time the family were there, half not.
This was Griff's job, to take care of the San Diego and Spring
Valley properties. And that caused all the fights, because he
wasn't doing it the way his father thought he should.
Baum: So Griff came down here and lived in the Fourth and Fir house.
That was when you had the letter to Mrs. Horton from Matilda
Bancroft, introducing her son, Griff.
MWB: Yes. You see, Griff was married when he was twenty-two, I think
it was, and his wife was twenty.
Baum : That was Ethel Works .
MWB: Works. Daughter of — that time he was a lawyer — John D. Works.
Afterwards, he became senator from California.
Baum: Where did they come from, the Works? From San Francisco?
MWB: No. From the Middle West somewhere. I don't know.
Baum: No, I mean when Griff met —
MWB: Oh, they were living here in San Diego.
Hubert Howe Bancroft built a complex, two houses with a common
entrance. I think they called them complexes in those days. That
was done, I think, almost immediately. That's where their three
children were born. That's Barbara, Griff ing, and Howe.
Baum: Was that HHB's gift to them as a wedding gift?
MWB: I don't know. I would imagine so. But there again, you see, he's
always wanted to keep them all together. At that time, across the
street was a residence hotel, Robinson Hotel, and HHB was there.
I know he was there when he got this message because they had to
send a messenger up, many a mile, from the center of town, from
Western Union. I remember Hubert Howe telling of this disaster,
one of the disasters he talked about in his life, a great crisis.
The children all, I guess, stayed in San Diego for a while, but
then they went back up to San Francisco. These houses were all
kept ready for use. Usually there was a paid caretaker in them.
When they came, there was no way of notifying them — at Spring
Valley, at least. Walnut Creek, I doubt, had a telephone at that
time. I'm sure they didn't. I don't think any of them had tele
phones, come to think of it.
Baum: I'm trying to think. I guess there were telephones before 1900,
but not very common, or not out in the country.
MWB: Yes there were. I mean, telephones. Of course, when my dog bit
me and nearly blinded me, I was three years old, almost four.
We had a phone and were able to phone for a doctor a mile up the
road, the main part of Glasgow. Mother said, "Now, I have told
you, it would be a good thing to have a phone." She said that to
my father. Instead of saddling a horse and sending it with some
body else, why, they telephoned and the doctor came there, that
soon. They thought I was going to bleed to death.
Baum: So that was before 1900.
MWB: That would have been about '96.
Baum: My'. The Wood family was a forward-looking family also, I see.
MWB: Sure, they were.
Baum: With the newest equipment. Well, what did Griff tell you about
MWB: They had a lot of liberty. As I say, they nearly always had a
tutor. If they were planning to go to Europe, they'd pick out a
tutor who spoke either French, Italian, German — they were very
fond of Germany — or Spanish. So, the children had a good educa
tion, as children, and they were disciplined in a lot of things
that way. For instance, at the table (their own; they didn't eat
with the family very much), they were forced to use the language
that that particular tutor spoke, and then they were penalized by
some tiny little something if they used the English. HHB was very
MWB: determined that his children should particularly speak French.
They'd spent a lot of time in France, and, of course, a lot of
time in London. He talked a lot about buying books, all over the
world, all over the Americas and Europe. They never went to the
Far East; they never went into that part of the world. He had
established agents and then would buy these books. I remember
particularly his telling me about the books that came from
President — the one who was murdered.
Baum: Gar field?
MWB: No, not American. Maximilian'. His library was sneaked out on
muleback and brought from Vera Cruz to London. His agent cabled
him that he'd have to have $10,000 to buy the books that he
thought Mr. Bancroft should own. Mr. Bancroft was away and the
man bought them, as the way he told me the story, and shipped them.
Mr. Bancroft was furious because he thought he had all the books
he needed and he couldn't imagine needing them. But his curiosity
got the better of him, and so he opened them. After the first box
he opened and the first volume that he took out, he sat down and
wrote the check out for $10,000 and sent it to the man, his agent.
Baum: So his agents bought them without instructions.
MWB: In that case he did because Mr. Bancroft was traveling —
Baum: I know how long it took to get messages —
MWB: — and he just took a chance.
Baum: You were talking about the Maximilian Library and this agent who
purchased the books and sent them to Mr. Bancroft, and you said
that he was pleased when he opened the box.
MWB: That's right.
Baum: But not before.
MWB: No. He was going to send it right back.
Baum: Did he tell you that?
MWB: Yes. Not only that, but he was talking about buying books,
particularly in Europe. He said he would go days without spending
a dollar, buying a book or anything, and then he'd see something
that he was determined to have, and he might pay anything up to a
hundred dollars or more, whatever it was — he bought the book. I
MWB: said to him, "How did you know? How could you be so quick about
it, Mr. Bancroft?" and he said, "Well, you knew, more or less,
what your subject was and you could take one glance at a book and
realize that was along the lines that you were writing."
Gradually, so many people who traveled bought books and then
came back and sold them or put them in the hands of somebody to
sell. He said it was a very fascinating thing. He might buy a
pamphlet that was absolutely necessary to his writing and would
pay anything they asked for it. He had to have it. He enjoyed
that, and I think you'll find that in Literary Industries where
it goes from one place to another. He'd have this man in London
always, the man who kept more track of it. Lots of times, they
would write from Spain, up to the London man, because there the
correspondence was so much faster. Correspondence was a slow
deal in those days. He enjoyed collecting more than anything
else. He enjoyed rummaging in bookshops. I was asking about his
going to cathedrals and this and that and the other. He said,
"Oh, I left that for Matilda to take the children to do that.
The real joy I had was buying these books."
Baum: I wondered about that. I read in Literary Industries about his
book collecting and 1 wondered if poor Matilda Bancroft had to
drag along through all those bookstores, too, or if she and the
children could go elsewhere.
MWB: As I remember it, they went to Europe on their honeymoon. I know
he didn't with his first wife. No, it was his first wife that he
took the trip with. Yes, he did with Matilda because he put Kate
Bancroft into a girls' school in the United States at that time.
The name has gone out of my mind, but I'll get it later. Kate was
sixteen when he remarried. I think he was almost twenty years
older than Matilda.
Baum: I guess I read the journal of his trip to Mexico with Kate. Now,
that was 1883. I don't think he'd married Matilda Bancroft yet.
MWB: Yes. He married Matilda in 1876.
Baum: And in 1866, he went to Europe with Emily, whom he calls, "The lady
friend whom I had married several years previously."
MWB: Yes. He married her in 1858, I think it was. Then she died in
'69 and he remarried.
Baum: I do have all those dates.
MWB: He remarried in '76 because I know he and Matilda were married
almost the same month as my father and mother.
Baum: I know he did travel quite a bit with Kate. They seemed to have
had quite a nice relationship in the early years, at least, when
she was a young lady.
MWB: Yes, they did.
Baum: I'm sure he was trying to educate her, too.
MWB: He took her to Mexico. This was after his wife's death but before
he married Matilda. They had a marvelous time. Kate Richards used
to tell me about that. Must have been a year before, or two years,
because she was a young lady. They lived in great style and were
invited by the president to different things. She loved it.
Baum: Did Kate talk to you about those trips?
MWB: Some. She was always critical.
Baum: Of what?
MWB: Her father. But those trips, she really enjoyed. She was critical,
more or less, later on.
Baum: Maybe she felt that her family had been superseded by the new
MWB: I don't think it was that as much as it was she wanted to live in
Europe in a style to which she wanted to become accustomed, and
he wanted her to live out West and do something quite different
from what she wanted to do. She had that European complex that so
many people in those Victorian days had. But she got away most of
the time, because she lived there with her children. You see,
there was all this feeling. She went twice to Europe and lived
for a couple of school years.
Baum: Did HHB tell you any more about his book collecting?
MWB: I remember he spoke more about interviewing people, that time that
he interviewed Brigham Young. Then he spoke about the fight, the
final fight with Fremont. He had written some about Fremont. As
he told the story to me — I'm not sure which was right or accurate
or anything; I'm not passing judgment — but when Fremont was living
in Washington, after all the work that he had done, he went to see
him. I think he was incapacitated. I don't know how long before
his death, but he wanted —
Baum: Who was incapacitated? Fremont?
MWB: Fremont. Mr. Bancroft went to see him in Washington, D.C. Mrs.
Fremont let him in and was very cordial. Then Fre"mont said,
"We'll have to make a settlement first about how much you're
going to pay me for this interview." Mr. Bancroft said to him
it was quite enough for him to receive the recognition and the
story and all of that without pay because he had never paid for
interviews. He said never, and I'm not sure that was literal,
but anyway, he said that. With that, they got into an argument
and he told Fremont that he could write his histories without an
interview, and walked out on him. So that was one of the reasons
that he always had a feeling, but he had been critical of Fremont,
and Fremont had asked him to come and interview him. That's as I
remember his story. .
Now, if we look back into the history, he may have told a little
different story at the time, but that's what he told me. He said
he never admired Fremont . He thought that it could have been
handled in a very different way and not caused the United States
taking it and making California a state. And he had a good deal
of criticism of Fremont. They didn't see eye to eye in what he
had done. He was going to write it as he thought these things had
actually taken place and not explain and cover up the mistakes that
he thought Fremont had made.
Baum: I think later on, when there was a period when people were criti
cizing Mr. Bancroft a lot, that was one of the causes of criticism,
because they were trying to make a hero of Fremont and HHB wouldn't
MWB: Oh, yes! It was, definitely. It was from that time on, but I
think it started at that time. Up to that time, he hadn't been
as critical of Fremont. Then he began to pick out things that
maybe had not been reviewed or had not been written about before.
Baum: He told you about this abortive interview with Fremont that didn't
MWB: Yes. He told me about that. One of the people that he did like
very much was Vallejo. He liked the Mexican people. He'd always
been well-treated when he went to Mexico, royally treated. They
wanted him to see the best of Mexico, and he always had a lot of
Mexican help. He never had particularly educated people, but he
had great sympathy with Mexico. He read Spanish. I don't remember
his ever using Spanish words. I don't remember his ever talking
about it, but I certainly know that he read Spanish. And, of
course, these books, all of his books were in Spanish.
MWB: When I was in Spain, we went to see a couple. The young man was
our guide. We went there for tea one afternoon and the minute we
came in, the man said, "I have something to show you." He took us
into this little library and they overwhelmed the library. He had
all Bancroft's Works , from Madrid, in Spanish. I didn't count them.
They possibly could have been just Mexico and California, but they
were so proud of those books. That's why they asked us to tea,
this young chap who had been to the United States and spoke Spanish.
He'd been taken care of by Lucy Bancroft, Mrs. Redfield, when he
came over here and was placed in some home. He was very proud to
take us around and do a great deal for us . He presented this
invitation. It was written in Spanish and in English, too. The
father wrote it out and then the son wrote it out in English, to
come to tea. When we went to tea, there were at least a dozen of
the whole family that had gathered to see these two American women,
to talk to them.
Baum: This is when you and Cora went — your sister, Cora.
MWB: Yes. And a very elaborate tea. We said to the father that we
wanted to go to Jaialai. He said, "We never go, but I'll give my
son permission to go. He's never gambled, but if you ladies need
someone to accompany you..." And the boy was simply thrilled, you
Baum: The boy got to go to the Jaialai games.
MWB: It was so cute, one of the things. While we were getting ready to
leave that afternoon, we were on our way back then to Rotterdam
to catch the ship. A knock came on the door and it was this lad.
He said, "My mother has sent you a present. She said, 'I think,
Son, it would be nice if you would help those kind, kind ladies to
the airport.'" And he said it was going to be his gift to us,
after the things that we had done.
We couldn't get the suitcases packed. By this time, we'd
bought presents for everybody and we were in an awful whirl. We
kept running out and buying baskets to carry things. He stayed
with us. I kept corresponding with him for years afterwards.
I've lost it now.
Baum: Did Mr. Bancroft talk about any of his other collecting activities
with you? Did he like to bargain? Did he ever talk to you about
MWB: Take it more from what the boys said. They said he would drive a
hard bargain, but if he really wanted something, he was perfectly
willing to pay for it, and he did pay for it. He had a colossal
MWB: memory of what he had in all these different places. I couldn't
figure how he could be traveling as much as he did, but he went
right on writing, whether he was on a train or if he went to Santa
Barbara; he immediately set up one room for his writing and went
right on writing. I don't ever remember a time of talking to him,
anywhere, that he didn't have a pad, envelopes, and stamps. He had
a big pocket and he stuck it in there or he picked it up off the
desk. Of course, by that time, he was like all old people and was
fighting his memory. He'd forget things. It seemed to me that he
had such a vast memory that I wondered he had time and place to
store everything in his brain.
Baum: Now, you remember him in 1917. with pads to write letters. I think
Philip told me that in his youth, when Philip was a boy, he always
had galley proofs in his hands, so he was always correcting them.
I guess that ' s when the Works were coming out .
MWB: Yes. Oh, absolutely. At this time, you see, his last book was
published in his latter days, and he had been writing it over a
period of years, I think. So he was writing mostly to his family.
He wrote to Lucy, and Kate was still living, and to his sons, and
to his grandsons. He was always receiving letters from people
that had to be answered. It may be only a few lines. I remember
one time he wrote, and this is typical, "Dear Griff, for very
small favor, I offer you very small thanks. HHB"
Baum: Very brief.
MWB: And a two-cent stamp, you see. Now, I'm sure he wouldn't have done
it. He'd have thought twice about writing all those letters [with
higher postage.] That's why you see in the Bancrofts' — I don't
know how many letters they had that were in boxes, Phil Bancroft's,
up in storage. A great many of those were burned.
Baum: In the letter that your son, Griff, wrote you about his grandfather,
he mentions that he seemed to be looking for grandsons, not grand
MWB: That was true.
Baum: And that all the way, he seemed not to think as highly of the
abilities of women.
MWB: And yet, I think, of all the grandchildren, in one way he got
more pleasure out of young Lucy Bancroft, the one who was Mrs.
Redfield. She died about five years ago, Mrs. John Redfield.
He got more pleasure out of her because she was cuddly. She was
Phil and Nina's youngest daughter. There was Anne, then Lucy,
MWB: and then Philip. Lucy was a chubby little gal of eight when I first
saw her. She just sort of knocked down his defenses and climbed all
over him and sat in his lap. Anne was more reserved. Of course,
she was a little bit older, but she was of a reserved character.
Lucy was very outgoing. I suppose he was that way with Kate. She
was his first child.
Baum: Could you see any difference in his expectations for the little
granddaughters and the grandsons?
MWB: You mean in his talking about it?
Baum: Yes. And how he either treated them or talked about them.
MWB: In making out his will and everything, it was always to the sons,
and then, in case they died, it was to the grandsons. I don't
think he ever left any money to any of the granddaughters, that I
know of. That was for their father to do it. He left everything
to his three sons and left an annuity to Kate and an annuity to
Lucy which has been faithfully carried out. Then Phil and the
boys, I'm sure, raised the annuity for Lucy, because she was never
married, and as time went on they raised it and that's what she
I never discussed the details much of things like that with him.
I knew these things from my own husband and from Phil, because I
did everything with Griff. I knew every move that he made when it
came to financial plans, and because Griff was not particularly
interested, except to spend the money, little by little I began
to take it over. Paul and Phil appreciated that so much that I
would always , when I would go to San Francisco , go down and spend
half of a morning going over the books and all that, with Paul.
Sometimes Phil would be there, but Paul was in the office, and
we'd go to the Palace Hotel for lunch. We'd sometimes meet Lou
there or Griff, who was doing something else. Or Paul and I would
go. But that was always the treat.
Well, in talking about finances and of the tragedy of being in
debt, HHB said himself, he was never comfortable if he didn't have
at least a hundred dollars in his pocket and a good many thousands
of dollars in the bank that he could draw out at any time. As I
remember the figure, and I may be wrong about that, it was $50,000
in the bank.
Baum: That's quite a lot of liquid money.
MWB: Yes, but he said if he hadn't had it, beginning with the fire of
'86 and again with the earthquake and fire in 1906, that he would
not have been able to have gotten along without borrowing money.
MWB: Most of the time, he never had to borrow money. He nearly always
had the money. When it came to the rebuilding, I'm sure they did.
But of course, there they had the insurance money. He may have
started before that insurance money; the details of that, I don't
Baum: We were talking about the Society of California Pioneers. Did he
ever talk to you about being included in the membership there and
then being kicked off of the membership?
MWB: Yes. Because he said that the Donner Party happened about the time
Hubert Howe Bancroft came to California, or maybe before he came to
California. He did know that the people who did survive were great
heroes in Sacramento and then in to San Francisco. As time went on,
and he interviewed maybe the children of some of those people, it
leaked out that they had resorted to cannibalism, which I'm sure I
would resort to, in the same case. Naturally, there were questions
as to whether the people were taken care of without respect to
their age or anything else and some people were allowed to die and
some weren't. Then the subject came up that the only way they
survived was by eating this frozen flesh. He said himself that it
wasn't a criticism, but it was true. Whether it's in his books or
not, I've never read it, but there were two or three people that
belonged to the Pioneer Society that bitterly resented what he said.
Of course, in those days, people, I think, were more fastidious
about that than they would be today. I think we're more realistic
about it. We know of this case that just happened in Chile. Those
people wrecked in that airplane and they survived that way. HHB
said that was it and he could get along without the Pioneer Society,
but I'm not awfully sure that's smart to say right now. Maybe we'd
better let him get back in the Pioneer Society, if that is bother
ing these people. Maybe I'd say the wrong things.
Baum: No, I wondered. He did tell you that he thought it was the Donner
Party story that got him kicked out of the Pioneer Society?
MWB: Oh, yes! But they weren't willing to say that, so they used this —
Baum: They called it the Fremont story.
Baum: Well, that might well be true.
MWB: Yes. That's exactly what he told.
Baum: We missed on the tape where you said the Donner Party story brought
you to think about —
MWB: Yes, that was the first time that I'd ever really thought, "What
would you do if you were in those exact circumstances?" The more
I thought about it, the more I thought, "Well, if you were hungry
enough and the person was frozen — "
Baum: And your life depended —
MWB: And your life depended on it, I would do it, too.
Baum: That was Mr. Bancroft's point of view.
MWB: That's what he said, yes.
Baum: You must have had quite a bit of eye-opening ideas presented to
MWB: Absolutely! Because every single day almost, when he was there —
he was in San Francisco at other times — he was always presenting
something to me like that in his talk. I just hadn't sat and
thought of so many things like that. Most of my life, I was too
busy making a living or trying to read books that I should be
reading on acting and other things. So, I just never had time to
really sit and consider things like that, and he enjoyed talking
about them. Very seldom we ever talked more than once or twice,
except about the children and the grandchildren, of course. We'd
go back to that anytime.
Baum: What was your day like in Walnut Creek when he was out there and
Griff was supposed to be writing, or his father wanted him to be
MWB: He was writing. He did the book, and it was published.
Baum: And you were a housewife with two rambunctious little boys to keep
MWB: Sure. And we had to do all sorts of shopping. Many a time, I'd
go over and talk with Nina when maybe Griff had gone to bed and I
didn't want to go to bed. I'd just run across the road there,
right in the compound. We'd discuss, so often, things that he
had told me, and Nina would discuss it because when they were first
married they lived at St. Dunston Hotel apartment house. Phil and
Nina had an apartment, and Paul and Louise, Lou, had an apartment.
Baum: Did Mr. Bancroft and Matilda Bancroft live at St. Dunston's or in
their own house?
MWB: They were at St. Dunston's. They had quite an elaborate apartment.
They lost a great many beautiful paintings and a great deal of
furniture. It was bombed in 1906 to stop the fire.
Baum: Then he built a fine house.
MWB: He didn't build it. He bought the H.E. Huntington house in 1906.
He did it particularly because Kate Richards wanted her two
daughters to make their debut in San Francisco. In this house,
there was a ballroom in the basement. There were big steps that
went down from the carriage way down to the ballroom. There were
three storeys above that, the main floor, and then where the living
quarters were, and then the third floor was where the help stayed.
He bought quite a bit of furniture that had belonged to H.E.
Huntington. I remember there was a beautifully paneled dining
room. I'm not sure, but I think it was mahogany. And a big
table, and there must have been twenty-four chairs. Maybe not
that many, but it was very elaborate. There was quite a lot of
furniture. That didn't burn, you see. Their fine stuff had been
moved to this big apartment at St. Dunston's.
Where they lived before that, I've forgotten, but it wasn't as
big a place as they wanted. Not only did Kate want it, but Matilda
thought it would be a wonderful thing to have this coming-out party.
I think it was the last party that she ever had. In those days,
they were largely dancing parties and, I suppose, champagne and all
that went with it. Right after that, Mrs. Bancroft died. By the
time Catherine Richards came along, she wasn't interested in having
a debut, or it wasn't possible for Mr. Bancroft to do it without a
hostess. They lost interest in it, so she didn't have a coming-out
party. The house was sold immediately after he died, because there
was no one who wanted it.
Phil Bancroft decided to run the ranch and build a home there,
and so they tore down this old ranch house and built —
Baum: The one you had lived in with Mr. Bancroft was torn down?
Baum: I guess it's the new one they built.
MWB: Yes. It's a big, two-storey one, with a big basement and attic.
They built that right after Phil came home from war. That was
when HHB died, in 1918. Phil came back right after the war was
over, and they started work on building that house. In the mean
time, they kept on living in "The Chalet".
V THE DEATH OF HUBERT HOWE BANCROFT
The Fatal Accident
MWB: I know what we were thinking about, though, which we hadn't touched.
It's HHB's death. That's what we wanted to go through because so
many people — and I've gotten letters and people asking. They never
knew that he had been hit by a streetcar. I think that date is
March the 2nd, and when he died on March the 3rd, 1918, he was at
his own home. He had gone downtown.
Baum: The big, fine home in San Francisco.
MWB: Yes. He had gone down to the office on a streetcar, which he
used, either the streetcar or the cable car. I think it was the
streetcar at that time. There were four cars paralleling, two
going up and two down Market Street. He'd been at the office and
was going home for luncheon. The streetcar nearest him went by
and he stepped out without looking and was hit by the next car
that was coming up. He was knocked against stone benches that
were there all along Market Street, and he hit his head. He was
banged up. I'm not sure whether he went in an ambulance or
whether he went home on his own power . I think he went in an
Griff and I had gone over to spend the night with him. Griff
was having some of his teeth pulled and he was in bed, under
sedation, when they brought Mr. Bancroft in. They put him in his
own bed and called for Dr. Gray. He came and examined him. HHB
was coherent and was terribly upset and mad over his own stupidity.
We wakened Griff. I think Paul had come. Paul was doing civilian
work for the war at another place. He wasn't at the office. He
came immediately. HHB was sitting up in bed and Dr. Gray was
greatly concerned over his head. It was badly bruised. I don't
MWB: remember whether it was bleeding or not. That part I don't
remember, but anyway, he was very uncertain but said that he
must stay in bed. Griff said to him, "Dad, are you going to
sue the railway company?" They loved lawsuits, you know.
Baum: There were a lot of lawyers in the family.
MWB: Yes. They loved lawsuits. He said, "Goodness! Tell everybody
that I am so old and dumb that I let that streetcar hit me?
Certainly I'm not going to do it." He didn't swear much. It
seems to me he said something like, "I'll be damned if I will I"
or something like that . And that was the end of that . Then I
think they put a nurse on the case. He went through the night
and developed aphasia, and died the next morning. He had had
some condition in his head. I think the doctor left it whether
it was the hitting that caused the final death, but the family
always had an idea that they did that to ease it off for some
reason or another. The papers at the time — I think we should
get back and do some reading on that.
Baum: I think I read that all the newspaper reports were incorrect in
almost every aspect.*
MWB: Yes. I'm quite sure they were, because there was no question
about it, that this caused his death. Of course, immediately,
there were a flood of people, and things to be done. In those
days, they kept the body there. The morticians came and he was
laid out in the big double parlor downstairs. Ella was absolutely
hysterical. Reporters were coming and going. Lists were to be
made out of the pallbearers. All these things that had to be done.
Nina Bancroft was over taking care of the children, but she thought
Lou would be there doing it, and Lou thought Nina would be there
doing it, and so neither one of them came until they came to the
funeral. Now, I think Lou did come in, after thinking about that
for a moment; she did, because I know I had a discussion with her
about clothes that we had to get for him to be laid out.
*0n Sunday, March 3, 1918, both the San Francisco Chronicle and
the San Francisco Examiner reported Hubert Howe Bancroft's death
on page one. John Caughey, Bancroft's biographer, describes their
divergent accounts of Bancroft's death, remarking that the con
flicting news stories "illustrate the difficulty of attaining
historical accuracy." John Caughey, Hubert Howe Bancroft,
Historian of the West, (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1946), p. 383.
Man Famous for Research Work
on Pacific Coast Passes Away
at Home Here at Agf of 86
SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER
March 3, 1918
Bookseller in San Francisco in
Early Years) Was Handicapped
by Small Technical Knowledge
Hubert How* Bancroft, noted Pa
cific ("oft/it hlntorlgn, »h* one maJi
Who preserved the history and ma
terials of all at old California, died
suddenly of acute peritonitis at i:10
o'clock yesterday afternoon at bis
borne at Zlf 1 Jackson ntrwL The end
came quietly after an Illnesa of only
** b,ou.rs, ' —
At the bedside were his sons, Paol
Bancroft, former Supervisor, and
] Ortfftng Bancroft of San Diego. An-*
other son. Lieutenant Philip B. Baa-
croft. i« with a motor truck company
1 at Camp Johnston, Jacksonville, FTa.
Miss Lacy Bancroft and Mrs. Chariea
. O. Richards (Kate Bancron), oaagh-
;;ters, reside In New York City.
Regarding the man who left as hl»
monuments thirty -nine authoritative
volumes of western history and the
(0,000 -volume Bancroft coU«cUon of
material* concerning Pacific ooa*t
history, now housed In the University
of California library, Professor Henry
Morse Stephen*, head of the nnrrer-
slty'a history deparUnenL said last
Bancroft was tbe s^reatest of a
balf domen great American his
torians, and tbe only one who had
an adequate understanding of the
His rreateat vaJne was as a col
lector of writings concerning tbe
Pacific Coast, for the Bancroft col
lection is the chief historical glory
of the University, which owns It.
HI* histories constitute a museum
of Information of Mexico, Califor
nia. Nevada. Oregon and all the
West, based on his study aod
•knowledge of the country.
No one seeXlng to know anything
about tbe West can do anything
without consulting the Bancroft
histories and tbe Bancroft eottec-
- Although one of the moat prolifle
writers of history which America
ev«r has produced, at the age <Sf
forty Bancroft had never written a
book, nor, by bin own statement,
niade .many jeara Jater t did he Jcnow
bow to write even the simplest man
uscript. From early m,anhood he had
been a book-seller and business man
In San Francisco, and previous to
that, clerk In a bookstore at Buffalo,
N. T. Earlier still, he was a farm
hand and tannery boy near Orand-
vllle, Ohio, where he was born May
S, 1832. It was tn the bookstores that
be obtained his education, hla attend
ance at pnbllc schools being very
Following his opening of a book
shop at San Francisco In 1S56. Ban
croft conceived the Idea of writing
a comprehensive history of Califor
nia, and to that end began collecting
books, manuscripts and newspapers.
So absorbed did he become In this
search for material that ten or twelve
years later be had collected thou
sands of volumes of books and stacks
of manuscripts and newspaper flies.
Still he had written nothing" and
Could/not, for he did not know what
was In the books and manuscripts. •
His published works Include:
West American historical series,,
published im-S7, in -thirty-nine vol-"
Native Races of tbe Pacific States,
five volumes; History of CentrsJ
America, three volume* ; History of,
Mexico, six volumes; North Mexican '
States and Texas, two /blumes; Call- '
fornis»_seven volumes; Arizona and
New Mexico, Colorado and Wyom
ing, Utah and Nevada, Northwest
Coast. Oregon, Washington. Idaho and
Montana, British Columbia, Alaska,
California Pastoral. California Inter-
Pocula, Popular Tribunals, Essays
and Miscellany and Literary Indus
SAN FRANCISCO, CAL., SUNDAY, MARCH :i, JD18
Prelific American Writer
Passes Away at His Home
in Walnut Creek
BORN IN OHIO IN 1832
Library of 60,000 Volumes
Collected by Him Now Pos
sessed by U. of C.
Hubert Howe Bancroft. nni> of the
mo«t prolific writer* of hlntory
America ha« produced, died ohortly
before f> o'clock Inn! evenlnBT at hl»
country homo in Walnut Crock Ban
croft wan Kti voar.i old nnil win the
lather of Puul Ilnncroft of Kan Fraji-
The. California hlnlortan wan korn
n»ae CrMttviiir. O. Mny 6. 1832. and
came I" Kurt Kranclaco. where, ho
"pMHd n Imokahop In 18T.6 It wan
In tho ImokMorrn that h« obtained hln
i rducnllon. hlx attendance at public
si-hooli brliiK limited/ AlthouKh the
author of wi-orex of IStmkn. llHncrofl.
by hi* own ntatemont. at tho AKO of
*ll. hud novor written a book Kol-
i pwuir hln opening of a bot/kntoro
hero. Itanrrofl began collecting book*.
many*- rl i>i H unU newHpapera with ih«-
Idea r>f wrltinK a comprehoriHjvo hlM-
lory of Callfurula
c IJI.I.KC TKIl II I (. LIBRARY
!!«• coll.-, i,.,i u library of 60.000
volumon which In now In po*no?<nloii
i>f tho Unlvrrnliy of Callfufnin. I'HT"
paHMion to write »o (•onaumod llan-
nofl that ho KHVC the conduct of hlx'
buiiinL-sa over to olhcrit. ajiU uct'htin-
»rl( lii rurncMt to the in- k I, our xlni-o
lh« plnn to wme only of CnllfornIA
onl.irKrd until It InclndrU the 1'uclll.
Coaxl roRlunn of tho whole North an. I
South American continent*
Soon iloHptilr fieln-d upon Uancrnft.
for In- dlHCUVOred hy IcMs that the
nuTn work of rcuditiK. dlK 1 ' 1 '! • f.v und
notnllni; hln mal'Tlnl Uliiildod wo'n'H
roqtjlrf nl loaMl ft>ur hunilr* 1 )) VOIIIK
H-- perfected u Hyutcin of card-lndox*
Inff. and thereafter trained and cm-
ployed huiiilretln of itsntntAntn. the
I«crv4^en of Homo of whom aim/uirtcj
to thRT, i>f ritllaboriitors
ORUA^r/.KS )M II1.IM11M. t 1»1I-\V1
Mo delvoil into thn mylhii an>l th*
loReiMla of the people* of the Amoii-
cnn runlinonl. lunnllitr buck into t h*
Middl* 1 £*:«•*, marthHllTiK thcrcti tun
the factN nnil ihcurlr.i of hiH Natu*'
liners of the I'ai Ilic State* " I'M
wnrk. Irj live volum«*M. WHH l^^uod in
U7<. ji» being noc'i-Kary. at the IH^I.
foi the author lu orKitnizv a publit>h-
Inn r*iVpanv t<> IIIHUIO lt.« piiii'liix
Bancroft ,••,( i MI;I I f.i that Ilic- «,iil. of
writing and rcitenri h expendeM upon
"Nutlyo Kaci'N" reprefiertted tho work
of (one MIHM lolling every da>, Hun-
ilo>n oxcopted. for (Illy > carf.
— h 1 Ti*tfiwttiir-thi« -wnrk— Hanfrof«,--w-ho .
Ix'caino widely rcioKiilzed MX MII mi-
:tn. ;•',-., on hlxtoij. plmiKcd Into ofh^r
work. contlniilnK Inci-Hfantly at his
dOHk until he liud '(iroducod (hlrty-
nltie vnliimoi. coinprUliiK the hlnory
of 1 1n- Pacific Count stntcH und coun-
trlea from Alankn to Arcmnna HIM
life ambition realized, he devoted him-
.-oir to occHHlonal wrltinK. pruilu. inn
"Kotronpectlon" after patwInK IIIH
eightieth hlrthdny. In IVK:: acrom-
punlod by asalBtunln. lie vlxllt-tl Mexi
co nnd npinj. nnjilhn In m-arcluni; the
ancl* itl iirchivrs ol that coiinii\ for
hlMor|.-»l dat^ Tho -'OHult w .LB a
new history of Mexico.
In October of 'nM year Hanwrof*
puhllnaed "In The>n Latter I'ayn."
which cauned widespread cnmtntinl
This work rover«.| polltlcn. bu.-tnosji
and lovlHlutlon. nn«l the vencinbln
historian Hpnrc<l neither rnpllal. labor
nor political leader.", wrltlnt: with
almost unmltlcni r/r'pcHslmlMni The
flylmf nf lh<« tinpili unmaiUrM n h^
i:li .Lhc guriiur ^;i^<t thai
)n tli^ pr*»Mn hr'tirr ihi- d*»cl;ir.i
war hy t)ic I 'nil vd Stati-a n ]•••
Ihr *»vpnlnc of h!» tl!
rrnfl itlvfdrd hl.s tttn« bet « • .
rountry IIOITIA In Walnut Cn-*-
the family rrslth-ii* r at 1'ffAA .1.
Ft r»«-t. J-'nnfirul arranKf inrnt^
not hcun ronii»lrlc«l.
There was an enormous funeral. All the dignitaries from the
universities and various and sundry. There's a good list of that
in the papers, I know. I've seen that. Well, somebody said you
could get it in Literary Industries. The minister didn't read
far enough to know that he'd been married the second time. That
actually happened. We sat there, squirming over this thing, when
he said, "His dear wife," and went on about his works and every
thing, but there sat the children of his second wife, you see.
He spoke of Emily, and not Matilda.
Yes. I'm sure I don't think that was in the papers, but it
What church did you call on for a minister?
That I don't remember.
Since he was not a church member.
It may have been the church you said you belonged to.
Unitarians. It was some prominent man that he knew. Paul had
more to do with that, because as I said, I had a sick husband at
the same time.
The flowers began to come. Ella was in hysterics the whole
time. She was completely unavailable for work.
She could have been so useful to you.
But her niece was there and there was a cook in the kitchen,
were other people helping, servants and that sort of thing.
I walked the ballroom floor. That's where the services were.
Now, wait a minute. They put the flowers down there. The service
was in the double parlor. They were all big rooms. We went down
to see that those flowers were going to last the next day and then
we moved them upstairs. Ella and I went from the top floor to the
bottom floor, from the bottom floor to the top floor, at least six
times that night, or two nights. She could not settle down.
Finally, I'd go into her room and tell her if she'd lie down, I
would talk to her. So I talked to her about our trip to Yosemite,
or this or that or the other, and she'd fall off to sleep. Sleep
MWB : for a few hours. Then I'd hear her upstairs, gasping. She'd go
off. The doctor gave her some medicine to put her to sleep for a
while, but she'd wake up and go at it again. She was very Catholic,
you know, and she thought of all the good things he'd done and some
of the bad things he'd done, maybe. And maybe he wasn't going to
heaven, where she thought he should go because she thought he was
a wonderful man, but still he has to go to purgatory.
Baum: His soul wasn't saved.
MWB: It wasn't saved completely, but he'd go to purgatory. "Purgatory"
was a much-used word at that time. He wasn't in hell, burning.
She was positive of that. It was all very realistic to her. But
he'd get to heaven because that's where his wife, Matilda, had gone.
I think she went there without ever going to purgatory. She was
worried about their not being together. It was a pitiful thing to
see. Just as emotional as a person could be; of course, she'd been
in the family — I don't know — it must have been easily twenty years.
Almost that much.
We all went, with a huge convoy with police and everything, down
to Daly City or wherever it was the big cemetery is, and he was
buried there, between his two wives. His first wife on the right;
the second wife on the left. And then the third wife would some
times be at the top or the bottom, but there was no third wife this
Baum: Is that a family burial plot there?
MWB: Yes. They had it, I guess, since the time that Emily died.
We went back and stayed that night to be with Ella. I stayed
with them. I think Griff went back to the farm with the boys.
There was a discussion with Nina and a difference of opinion
completely, because Griff said he wanted the boys to be there at
the funeral and she did not want her children to be there. No,
she disapproved and thought it would give them nightmares and
different things, and she didn't want that. It was her way of
handling it, and Griff's way was the realistic way. So she got
the two boys dressed and brought them over with her without her
own children. By that time, Griff ing, Jr. was eleven and Howe
was eight and a half years old. I think Griff ing would remember
it distinctly and, of course, Paul, Jr. would. He came. But Kate
was in New York and Ruth was overseas and Catherine was in New
York. She was captain in the motor corps. It was right in the
middle of the war.
Baum: I know Phil was away.
MWB: Yes. Phil was in Florida. Of course, there was no such thing as
flying. He was just about ready to go overseas. He was overseas
until 1919. While he went in as a regular, in the regular service,
he was very quickly picked out of that and made a judge to handle
American servicemen's cases, because he spoke French. He had to
stay on quite a long time after the war was over — several months —
to clear up all those cases and finish up the business we had at
hand there. As soon as he came back, he said he had been very ill
during part of the time he was over there with — I don't know if it
was malaria or something like that he had . He said he was never
going to stay indoors again. So he closed his law office and took
active charge of the farm. From that time until the time that he
died, he ran that farm.
Baum: He became as prominent in farming as in other works before that,
and he had been on the railroad commission.
MWB: Yes. And he was also in politics. When Ex-President Roosevelt
went back to run for the presidency again, he said, "I'll throw
my hat in the ring," and he threw it right at Nina Bancroft, with
this bright red hair of hers. She picked it up, and he motioned
to her that it was for her. I think that hat's in The Bancroft
Baum: Maybe so.
MWB: I think it is. It should be.
Baum: I know Nina and Phil were at that convention in 1912.
Baum: Was there a disruption to the business and all when Mr. Bancroft
MWB: No, because Paul and Phil had taken it over completely.
Baum: But Phil was gone.
MWB: Yes. Then Paul took it over while Phil was away. Phil had been
away in training here on the west coast and then final training
in Florida. We were only actually in that war a year and a half.
So part of that time he was in San Francisco. When he was in
training, he still could work. Paul was always the one that took
care of the books. He used to, as I told you, take me over there
and go over those books to be sure that _!_ thought that Griff was
getting his full share. I was the one that had to do the economy
of the family.
Baum: Then the family sold the Huntington-Bancrof t house?
MWB: Yes. I'm not just sure just what. I know that after we'd settled
Griff's matrimonial troubles, we went back to San Diego, in Septem
ber, I think it was, of 1918. We were in San Diego when war was
declared over. We were able to rent a very small cottage.
Fortunately, some military people had just vacated the day before.
San Diego had such an enormous influx of military during that time.
We lived at that house for about a year.
Our boys sold the papers of the false armistice. Westbrook
Pegler, I guess it was, made the great mistake; I'm not sure of
that. Then two or three days later was the real armistice.
Griff ing, Jr. was always ready to make a few dollars. Howe would
follow him, whatever he did. I can still see them yelling, and
we'd have to keep buying extras. "Extra! Extra!" they'd scream
at the top of their voices. We were living just half a mile from
the center of town, and people just went wild, of course. Well,
Baum: I've read about those celebrations. That must have been quite
MWB: We were there right after that when that terrible flu struck —
before we had gone into our house. We bought a house almost
immediately after that. Then we settled down there in San Diego
and lived twenty-five years in that house. We sold that and
came to La Jolla.
Baum: Your husband managed the various Bancroft properties.
MWB : Yes . Or mismanaged it , according to HHB .
Baum: He didn't have to worry about HHB any more and all those letters
MWB: No, and we never had any, any rupture or discussion, or anything,
about the settlement. It was all done with the greatest of friend
ship. He was so afraid that someone, particularly Kate, might
contest the will.
Baum: She only got an annuity.
MWB: She had some little something to stand on because her own mother
had some property that had been involved, but legally it wasn't,
because they took that and settled for the annuity, you see. In
the end, she was better off, because we went through that very bad
period of the Depression from '29 on. She was still alive. They
were having to borrow money to pay taxes, and the annuities went
on, so in the end she was better off than if she had changed it.
She probably would have spent it all anyway.
MWB: Anyway, that's the way we settled down there, and Kate came back to
live in San Diego. Her two daughters married after a certain length
of time, and Ruth finally came back to live in San Diego. She
married a Philadelphia man and lived in Philadelphia for at least
ten years . Then he came out here to California and ended up here
with a big house with Dickie here in La Jolla. And Babe married
Edgar Allan Poe, as I say, one over and down. As you remember,
Edgar Allan Poe didn't have any children, he died so early in life.
That settles us, I think, for the time being. Just let it go.
VI THE BANCROFT FAMILY IN CALIFORNIA POLITICS
Philip Bancroft's Campaign for U.S. Senator, 1938
Baum: I know I've discussed politics with Phil, and he was so prominent
in Republican politics. I believe you and Griff participated in
MWB: We gave six months of undivided attention. I never fought as hard
in my life. Never worked as hard and never enjoyed anything more
and I really learned politics in those six months. But I had been
in politics for years. My husband was very politically minded.
Phil announced about the first of April that he was going to run.
Baum: Let's see. I can't remember if that was '34 or '36 that he first
Baum: Was it '38?
MWB: Yes, it was '38. Just before the war started. We immediately set
up offices downtown, and I took over the county, as chairman of it,
and Griff took over the city. We had a very strong group of Repub
lican people here at that time. We have still, I think. This
county nearly always votes Republican. I got a great kick out of
it because I went to every single —
Baum: We are discussing the Republican campaign of 1938 for which
Margaret took over the county and Griff took over the city.
MWB: That was within the Republican party.
Baum: First you had to fight for the nomination, I believe, quite
MWB: Yes. This was the fight, for the nomination. Then for the office
itself. We just went to work immediately. Phil came down here
and talked to a large group of our friends, personal friends, more
or less. We gave a great party for him at our house. He told
them exactly what he believed in and all of that , and then from
that we went out into a bigger field. In covering the county,
which is what I was doing, I was covering a great many people and
places that I knew. I always remember, after the final election,
or, it was the nomination, George Sawday, who was taking care of
a certain district around Witch Creek, said —
Baum: The Sawdays were Republicans.
MWB: Oh, strong. Most of the county people. It was a fairly easy job.
He said, "You know, there was one man that voted against Phil.
When I find out about it, I'm going to get him out of this section
of this country." Just one man! That was the best record of the
whole thing. That was it for the nomination. We often laughed
about it. He was very serious. He felt he'd been let down because
he was the big man of that whole section of the country. Then,
when we won the nomination, Griff and I went with Phil. There was
talk there was going to be a recount, at one time, it was so close.
Baum: Here in San Diego County?
Baum: In the state.
MWB: We found that there was a — Griff did this. I think it was Griff
and Phil; the two of them were rechecking. Both of them were
mathematicians. Then, they didn't have any little gadgets to do
it for them, but they had terribly quick eyes. Actually, there
was one place where there were marked 4,000 when it should have
been 1,000. Whether that was done intentionally or not, we'll
never know. It was the deciding vote.
Baum: Was that for the opponent?
MWB: Yes, for the opponent.
Baum: So Phil really had three thousand more votes.
MWB: It was more than that in the final count, but this was just for
one county. They were running it up county by county over the
state. There was some one county where someone had made the
MWB: mistake. We had been told he'd lost up in Sacramento. Everybody
just sort of left us alone, after everybody coming up and talking
to you. We were at the capitol and all. It was a lowly feeling.
Baum: You mean when you'd lost.
MWB: Yes. They avoided us afterwards. Talking to other people, they
said it was the normal thing to do. People don't want to walk up
and say, "I'm sorry you lost." So, they just avoided us. I was
there with Anne Bancroft. Nina was not well. She had had a heart
attack some little time before that and was really not doing very
much during the campaign, except at home, writing letters and
things like that, doing things for Phil. Then they suddenly
announced that a mistake had been found and he had won the nomina
tion. With that, everybody came back, just like that.
Baum: Your friends returned.
MWB: Just like that! Every friend returned. I don't think it was ever
published because it was seesawing, you see, back and forth —
Baum: This was all taking place in Sacramento?
MWB: In Sacramento.
Baum: With the final count.
MWB: Yes. Final count. You know, they'd bring in the bags. In those
days, they counted them by hand. Right here, I've done it; I used
to do it for years. Go down to the courthouse and go down to the
basement, and they'd say, "Here comes Julian I" A rickety old car
or anything might come in, bringing the bags that were sealed.
"Here comes Ramona," and all the places of the county, of course.
That was the county count. Then they add up county by county.
Baum: Do you recall who participated in that campaign with you, who any
of the funders were, or the loyal workers?
MWB: In San Diego?
Baum: Yes. In San Diego.
MWB: Oh, yes, by the hundreds.
Baum: The Sawdays were.
MWB: Yes, that was just one instance.
Baum: That would be the Witch Creek area.
MWB: The Republican party stood magnificently behind Phil Bancroft.
Baum: That was a hard year because you were fighting the Ham and Eggs, I
MWB: Fighting not only Ham and Eggs, we were fighting Franklin Delano
Roosevelt. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, I'm positive, had people
who checked very carefully. Phil was an utterly independent
person, an utterly honest person, and a wealthy person. There
was nothing in the way that he could get at him. It was one of
the things, of course, Phil was fighting against the unionizing
of farm labor, which he felt at that time — . Of course, now
that's popular, but at that time, it was Harry Bridges —
Baum: Was that an issue here in San Diego County?
MWB: Oh, no, I'm talking about the rest of the state.
Baum: I wouldn't think it would be a red-hot issue here in San Diego
MWB: It's a big waterfront. Fortunately, we knew a great many of the
waterfront people, because we had owned The Least Petrel and had
spent a great deal of time on the waterfront. We made that six-
month trip and that whole thing, and we just knew people all over
the county. Griff had been here and I'd been here so long, so it
was very easy. That was the first time that I ever saw Nixon.
He was, I think, in law school. He came down with a man repre
senting Orange County. I think that was Orange County. We had
a little meeting. I was the only one in the family who could go
out to it, and I went out with a lawyer from here who was an
ardent supporter. We ate at the greasy spoon, as it were, and
had this little meeting. He was doing some work for the Republican
Baum : Nixon was .
MWB: Yes. Connected with his studying law. I was always a supporter
of Nixon. I died hard.
Baum: Was Nixon then supporting Phil Bancroft? I know Phil Bancroft
became a big supporter of Nixon later on.
MWB: Oh, yes. That was an utterly independent thing. He just happened
to come. He didn't know Phil at that time at all.
Baum: He must have been a very young man at that time.
MWB: He was. He was still in school. He was in law school.
Baum: And you were favorably impressed with him at that point? Or do
you remember it, even?
MWB: 1 remembered the name. It came to me because there were maybe
just a half a dozen of us sitting there, eating at this greasy
spoon. He and this lawyer from, I think it was Orange County,
because that's where —
Baum: That's where Whittier is, and that's where he came from.
MWB: Yes, from Whittier. That's right, of course.
But Phil couldn't defeat Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They did
some things at the last minute. I don't know whether Phil told
you this or not, but those last few days when you couldn't defend
yourself beyond that, they scattered this leaflet of Phil driving
a mule hitched to a plow, a man and a mule pulling this plow.
Phil, with a cowboy hat on and boots, and a whip. There were
thousands, I guess, maybe a million of them, scattered over the
Baum: I haven't seen that leaflet.
MWB: I think I have it. I'm not sure. But I know that Phil has it.
Then, that same week, it came out in every post office in
California that the organization that was handling, was giving
help to people —
Baum : WPA?
MWB: Yes. WPA. They could fill out pamphlets right there in the post
office and fill out a questionnaire that was there and could get
jobs. It was reassuring the people that they would be taken care
of. There it was. They were put up in every post office.
Baum: So this was coming to you from the Democrats.
MWB: Always from the Democrats, yes, and all over California. Now,
that might have been coincidental; I'm not positive of that. I
remember seeing it. I remember it was up here at Encinitas and it
suddenly caught my eye. I went over and looked at it. But this
other thing was these pamphlets that came in and were just scat
tered. They probably wouldn't have put one of them in La Jolla
with the plow and everything, but in all the working districts.
Naturally a president wouldn't want to put a person of that calibre
MWB: into office if he could possibly save himself from it, because
Phil was a good speaker and he had a strong way of convincing
people. He was a good lawyer. It was at the time that Roosevelt
was in power. Let's see, he was elected in '32 and again in '36.
Baum: This was a mid-election, I guess.
MWB: This was a mid-election — '38.
Baum: But it really was a hard time, in the Depression. I think you
could have beat him.
MWB: No, it was a hard time.
Baum: I'm sure the county was pushing Ham and Eggs.
MWB: Yes, and then Ham and Eggs came, but the whole thing — no, we
couldn't. It was a combination of those things. But it was a
great experience. As I say, Griff and I didn't think of anything
else. Phil came here and talked at least twice, talked at the
Roosevelt High School, at a big meeting. I made a terrible
mistake that night. I'll never forget it. I got a whole group
of girls to usher, and it was a cold, cold night in early fall,
and a lot of these girls had on fur coats. One of the men — I
think it was Congressman Swing, but I'm not sure; somebody like
that — came up to me and said, "Margaret, you pulled a boo-boo.
You should not have had those girls in fur coats."
Baum: Cloth coats.
MWB: There were several things like that. That night, I remember, we
gathered together some old oldtimers, like Cave Couts, who's one
of the famous people of the very early days. Goes back to the
Spanish days, the Count Bandini family. We had this Cave Couts
there. He hadn't gotten out in years. We sent a car for him.
There was nothing we wouldn't do to get a vote, honestly. It
gave me a great insight into politics.
Baum: Was this your first political excursion?
MWB: No. Griff had been interested in it and so had Phil. I had
worked in political campaigns. I'd worked in any number of them.
We carried our county here, something like three to one. We
really had a big vote out. It was largely Republican. There
were not the amount of people, not the amount of working people
that were here. We carried it beautifully. It was the model of
the whole thing. We just had an inside run on it. Phil had a
hard time carrying his own county because Contra Costa County has
MWB: such a type of labor there. I can't remember now; I think he lost.
He may have carried his own county, but he lost Alameda, I think it
was. I'm not sure of that.
Baum: He couldn't win Alameda, I don't think. That's such an industrial
MWB: I think he won Contra Costa.
Baum: He couldn't carry the farming communities, I should think.
MWB: That was true, with a lot of them. Yet he carried his own districts
Bancroft Farm Labor
MWB: They always said Phil was so hard on farm labor, and yet it was a
strange thing. There were lots of them that came up from Mexico
with a card, green cards, they used to have. Or they just went
all over the state, these people that did that kind of work. When
they left him, he'd give them a self-addressed card, a penny post
card, that he would receive back. He'd save them a place. That
was for the picking of the pears .
Baum: They were to send the card back if they wanted a position?
MWB: Yes. And it was a great tribute to Phil, the great amount of
these people who did that. Just exactly that. Phil never had
any trouble on his own farm. Never, never.
Japanese-American Relocation, World War II
MWB: When the war came, he took care of his Japanese help because he
told them not to leave that farm and he'd take care of them.
Then, of course, the time did come and some of the people were
taken out. He said, "Just stay around the farm. Don't ever cross
the road. Don't ever leave the farm until we find out exactly
what has to be done to you." He did their shopping and Nina took
care of their plants. Then, when they had to go to the camps —
Baum: Relocation centers.
Yes, relocation centers. He stored just two or three barnloads
of stuff in some empty buildings that he had and took care of it
during the whole war. I went with Nina time and again to see
these people and to take them things when they were first there
at, I think, Bay Meadows.
And then further down; I forgot the name of the place there, and
they made a real job of following through on it until they came.
You're right. Tanforan. Not Bay Meadows.
Do you know if Phil favored the relocation?
necessary at that time, or did he tell you?
Did he think that was
He might not have been
Yes, he talked about it. We all talked about it a lot. He felt
that any American-born Japanese was an American citizen and that
they could not handle them en masse. So did Nina. She felt that
way very strongly. In the end, the government felt that way,
because they had this big troop of them over in Italy. Phil went
to bat on that, time and again, in Sacramento. The ones that were
Japanese citizens, or had been born in Japan, that was a different
Most of those were just old people, I think. The Japanese citizens,
at this point, weren't they mostly old people?
Oh, yes. Sakimoto was one of them that had been farm manager for
the A.L. Bancrofts for many years. He was there a long, long time
with them. I think, finally, when they sold the farm, he came
over to Phil. There were any number of Japanese around there.
They were older. And they went with great dignity. It was remark
able. I will never forget going there. You just felt you could
hardly stand it. We'd carry all sorts of goodies and things that
they might need — blankets, or whatever they wrote for — and we'd
take them. One thing they wanted more than anything else was some
of their plants, the tiny ones.
Bonsais. Nina had a whole table full of those that she took better
care of than anything else.
They had probably nourished those for fifty or more years.
She did so many things like that.
Participation in Richard Nixon's Campaigns
Baum: Did you go on in politics?
MWB: I was always active in it. I'd go and work wherever they asked me
to work after that for, I would imagine, up to maybe 1950, or around
in there. I gradually quit because we were going so much into Baja
California and had other interests. But for at least ten or fifteen
years 1 would help. I know after we'd moved to La Jolla, I remember
taking charge of the buses that went from here to — I guess it was
the second time Nixon was elected. I laugh when I think about it
Baum: We have just a little bit to finish. You had just, when we left,
started to mention Nixon's campaigns and that you and Griff had
participated in the first one. I believe that would have been
1952, the vice-presidential campaign. What part did you both play
MWB: We first began to know Richard Nixon when he was in Sacramento,
which I hadn't thought about until right now. Griff ing was there
covering the Capitol news, state news, for the Hearst papers from
Los Angeles. We followed his career from that time on. Then,
when Griff ing, our son —
Baum: I don't think we mentioned Griff ing's job.
MWB: I'll just simply say that Griff ing, at this time, was with CBS,
covering the first all-air trip that any president or vice-
president had ever done. This was all air, from Washington, B.C.,
up through the Northwest, and down to Los Angeles. Griff, Sr. and
I met him there and saw quite a bit of him because we went to a
number of rallies and a number of dinners. Then we drove in
cavalcades from Los Angeles to San Diego. If I remember correctly,
Nixon gave the same speech about ten times en route, much to the
amusement of the newspapermen. By this time, those newspapermen
were very tired of the whole thing.
Baum: The speech?
MWB: Oh, yes, and everything else. The baby-kissing and everything
else. He wasn't much of a baby-kisser. But we worked in the
Republican party, for Nixon, very vigorously at that time.
Baum: This would have been '52, when Nixon was running for vice-
president with Eisenhower.
Griffing Bancroft with then vice-
president Richard Nixon during his
career as a radio newsman.
MWB: Yes. Eisenhower and Nixon. We stayed in Los Angeles, you see,
and went to all these things , and then they came to San Diego .
Unfortunately, there was a call for Griff ing to go back to
Washington, and he never reached our home. We had to take him
directly to the airport, which happened all the time.
Baum: It's what you can expect in the broadcast business, I think.
MWB: Yes. One of the people had fallen out in Washington. He had to
go back and replace him.
Then we followed Nixon from that time on, doing whatever we
could. When I was back there in — I think it must have been '58
or '59 — I went back to Washington and we had our pictures taken.
I had my picture taken with him and his wife for the San Diego
papers. It was all very exciting. Then, when he ran for governor,
we worked on that campaign, were disappointed, and then he ran for
president, of course. He came here to meet the President of Mexico;
I cannot think of the man's name.
Baum: He came to San Diego?
MWB: Yes. That was, I think, in 1970. They gave a huge state dinner,
Nixon did, for the president. I think it was the first real state
dinner that had been given west of the Rockies, anyway. Six
hundred were invited and, of course, there were probably six
thousand who were furious that they weren't invited, but I happened
to be one of the lucky ones. It was very exciting. They did it so
fast that they sent telegrams out, asking you to call the White
House. I happened to have a cold at the moment and hadn't opened
the front door for twenty-four hours until a neighbor came and
said that there was a notice on the door. It was this telegram,
asking me to this dinner, so I immediately called the White House.
They were most cheerful and told exactly what it was. As a woman,
what do you think I did next? I immediately called —
Baum: For a dress. [laughter]
MWB: — Sanderson's. I was too sick to do any shopping. Mr. and Mrs.
Sanderson, who owned the store, said they would buy me one, if
they had to buy it from Magnin's or Hogan's, the two big opposing
companies. I stood up while Barbara pinned it up and did what she
thought had to be done . It took the whole community to get me
ready to go to this. I went with Mr. and Mrs. Copley, James
Copley, and also Representative Wilson's wife.
Baum: It was at the Coronado Hotel?
MWB: The Coronado Hotel, in a vast ballroom. We got in line to shake
hands with President and Mrs. Nixon, and the President of Mexico
and his daughter. His wife was not there; she was ill. When I
reached Nixon, he said very informally, "Hello." Then he turned
to the president and had it said in Spanish that I was the daughter-
in-law of Hubert Howe Bancroft, the historian. The president said
yes, that he knew about the histories of Mexico, which held up the
line, I'm sure, not more than two minutes. But when I got out of
line, broke line, everyone said, "What did you say to him, or he
say to you, that made him hold up that great line of people?"
Everybody had to put their drinks down, you see. There was a great
table there, and they had to put their drinks down and were champ
ing at the bit to get to the tables in the dining room. It was an
awfully funny occasion. We had wonderful seats, sitting almost
directly below President and Mrs. Nixon and Ex-President and Mrs.
Baum: Oh, the Johnsons were there.
MWB: Yes, the Johnsons were there, and very nonchalant — just whisked it
off — and the President of Mexico and his daughter, and there was
somebody else up at that table. I never saw Nixon as relaxed and
really having a good time as I did at that ball. In the first
place, it was a relaxed atmosphere. The President of Mexico had
ordered these wonderful dancers as his part of the party and
brought the complete entertainment with him. After the dinner,
the dancing was marvelous. Then President and Mrs. Nixon and the
President of Mexico and the daughter went down right past us to
the platform, to where the dancing was, and they gave each one of
the men a Mexican hat. They all came back wearing these Mexican
hats and looking pretty silly.
Baum: Nixon had a hat?
MWB: Oh, yes. The men had the hats; all the men went down.
Baum: You mean the men at the head table, or all the men?
MWB: I mean the men at the head table. They were sitting at the plat
form above, so we had a very good look because there was just the
backside of it, with the eight people who were there. Then we
were whisked off again to go through all the protection of the
police and everything else. You felt awfully important, you know,
wondering whether there was going to be a shot from some building.
That was great fun. So I was a Nixon person until things got very,
very bad and I admit that I died hard with him. I gave up in the
end. I felt I gave him more than a normal break.
Baum: It must have been hard on the people that had supported him here
in San Diego.
MWB: Terribly hard. It was terribly hard on people everywhere, all
over the United States.
Baum: I know some of his chief supporters in Orange County, and you can
imagine how they felt.
MWB: Oh, yes. Well, he always loved La Jolla and he came here many
times. He came here to receptions and parties from San Clemente.
You know, it's not too far, San Clemente. I don't know. What is
it — seventy-five miles or something? But I know he came here a
couple of times to church and he had some very intimate friends.
He came to their houses, so we felt that we really knew him. I'd
heard a great deal more about him with Griff ing, Jr., who had been
following him for a long time. He didn't tell much about his own
politics, but actually, he was a Democrat. So, he saw him in a
little different light than we saw.
Baum: Was Griff ing hostile to Nixon all along, or had he felt he was a
favorable sort of person, if not in the right party?
MWB: He lost faith a great deal sooner than we did, I'd say. In the
position he had with CBS and covering the Capitol (he was on the
morning, eight o'clock news service news), he naturally knew a lot
more than any of us knew, plus the fact that he had gradually
turned Democratic anyway, and broke the long line of Bancrofts
that mostly were Republicans.
VII MORE BANCROFT FAMILY BACKGROUND
[Interview 3: July 2, 1977 ]##
Hubert Howe Bancroft in His Older Years
Baum: You had been telling me about the trip to Yosemite with Mr.
Bancroft, and I think we had gotten about halfway through.
You told me about Ella with the money in her hatband and about
your California history lessons on Mr. Bancroft's hat.
MWB: Did I tell you about one morning when he came to the table with
a San Francisco paper? Griff had a San Francisco paper.
Baum: This is up at Yosemite, is that right?
MWB: In the Yosemite. He had a San Francisco paper of the day before
with a front-page story and picture of Hubert Howe Bancroft talk
ing about the last book he had written. It was just then
published, These Latter Days. Hubert Howe said, "Don't spoil
our breakfast. It's sure to have a lot of criticism and mistakes
in it." [the paper] When he walked out of the dining room,
several people rose to greet him, but he stalked on, oblivious
to the stir. Our trip back was made very leisurely, going
through the gold mining country, stopping off to see the old
towns. We spent two nights in a group. All the children rushed
out to greet us on our return, full of wonderful stories about
picnics on Mt. Diablo with Nina over the weekends. Mr. Bancroft
said to me, "See, you can always get someone to do your job."
So often, he said those things to get a laugh from the children.
They understood and loved him. Now, that was the end of that.
Baum: That was the end of the Yosemite trip. Do you remember how many
days you were gone on that trip?
MWB: I would say at least ten days, because we stayed a whole week in
Yosemite and took drives on these picnics where he talked so much
about history, every day.
Baum: So that was your Yosemite trip and California history lesson. Of
course, he was pretty old then. Wasn't it hard for him to make a
trip like that?
MWB: No. I don't remember him ever saying, "I can't remember," as so
many old people do. It was his legs that were bad. He had lack
of circulation. Ella used to put his legs in hot water and then
cold water, then rub them. She gave him a great deal of attention
to try to keep his legs going. Often he did have to sit down.
That embarrassed him and he was very impatient of it, because, if
you remember, he used to ride horseback for many, many years. He
thought nothing of getting on a horse in San Francisco and going
to Walnut Creek — on the ferry, of course — but the actual riding
was at least twenty-five miles. From the house, it may have been
nearer thirty because they lived up on the hill. I don't think he
took old age very calmly.
Baum: He resented his physical infirmities?
MWB: Yes. As I remember telling you, he had gone down on a streetcar
and he went back on a streetcar when he was injured. Then they
found, immediately, that he had passed out. They called the
doctors and then he died the next day.
Baum: So he was in the habit, even in those years, of going on the
streetcar to his office?
MWB : Yes .
Baum: I think you mentioned that he was coming home for lunch, so he
must have come home at the lunch hour.
MWB: It just happened that we were staying there with him that time
because Griff was having dental work done. He had a lot of teeth
pulled out and he was under sedation.
Baum: When you were at Yosemite, where did you stay?
MWB: The old Sentinel Hotel. It was a lovely old hotel and a beautiful,
beautiful time of year, you see. It was in middle October, I guess,
Baum: Were many people up there at that time?
MWB: No, it was very quiet. All eating in one dining room. Most of
the camps had been closed and there was very little activity.
That was a very hard dirt road to get in and out of. If it
rained, you were in trouble.
It was just after that when HHB came into the kitchen and
found Griff weighing my sugar. Griff was weighing the sugar to
put into the jam that I was making for the soldiers. He asked
Griff why he wasn't working on his book, and he said, "Well, I
thought I'd help Margaret here for a while." Actually, he was
enjoying my company and I was enjoying his. About five or ten
minutes later, a knock came at the door and this Japanese said,
"I your cook." I said, "No, I think you're mistaken because we
don't want a cook." "Oh, yes, Mr. Bancroft, he say he pay and I
your cook. You have more time then." I told Griff, and Griff
said, "Dad did say something about getting us a cook, but I told
him you liked to cook and I liked your food better than most
things people cooked." But the cook was established. He had
lived down in the quarters where all the Japanese people did. He
was there every day and did the cooking, cleaning, and did every
thing. That continued until after Mr. Bancroft died. Right after
that, they were getting so short of manpower because of the war
still being on, we released him. He went back to farming. He
didn't like it half as well, I'm sure.
Baum: Was he a good cook?
MWB: He could take orders. It was a running battle all the time between
him and Ella. We had a common basement and we would buy things.
Mr. Bancroft would tell her that she must live on just exactly so
much money. I think it was two dollars a day per person. So she
would steal from us. We had separate bins that were placed in the
basement. The cook couldn't find the things and would get very
upset and come to me saying, "I not steal. I not steal. That
woman, she steal." I'd say, "Just remember, you mustn't ever say
anything to her. Let her do whatever she wants to do." We were
living there absolutely free, not even paying for electricity.
The least we could do was let Ella steal a few potatoes or carrots,
or whatever she was stealing. [laughter] She was always dipping
into our bins.
Oh dear, she was a funny character. Superstitious. Just as
Irish as she could be. The family were a little bit worried that
HHB would resent that I was a Catholic. I hadn't gotten a dispen
sation, so I was not as good a Catholic as I should have been.
He'd start teasing her. Then she'd come to me and say, "Now, you
tell me what to tell him because he says this or that and the
Baum: This would be on religion, is that right?
MWB: On religion, yes. At the very beginning, I didn't know that he
knew I was a Catholic. The first time he did that to Ella, he
said, "Mrs. Bancroft's a Catholic. You ask her." He'd known all
along that I was a Catholic, but none of them knew that he knew.
They said, "Let him get to know you first before." He had been a
very religious person, but he lost it all. He thought I was going
to be full of Catholic superstition, whatever you want to call it.
He laughed and said, "Your face looked a little surprised. Didn't
you know that I'd known that you're a Catholic?" I said, "I don't
know what my husband told you. I have no idea." I was just partly
saying the truth because they said just let it ride.
The Bancroft Fruit Ranch, Walnut Creek
MWB: From that time on, we had the Thanksgiving in our big living room,
which was the biggest one. It was mainly because Lou Bancroft,
the wife of Paul, and Nina, the wife of Philip, did not get along.
So mine was neutral ground. We loved Aunt Josie Griff ing, who
was a maiden aunt; she was a sister of Matilda, HHB's wife. She
was so enchanted that I would take the time to do the decoration
and to do the food, because she had awfully good food but didn't
know how to prepare anything. She was just one of those people
who always had servants all her life.
Baum: Was that Josie, the aunt who lived in Santa Barbara?
MWB: Yes. Josephine Carter Griff ing. We repeated it, then, for Christ
Baum: So you had the big Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners that last
year of Hubert Howe Bancroft's life.
MWB: He sat at the end of the table — at one end — and Griff sat at the
other end. Then all the children up and down. There was Nina and
her three children, Griff and myself and the two boys, Mr. Bancroft,
and Ella ate with us, and her niece, and Aunt Josie. Paul and Lou
Bancroft and Paul, Jr. were also at the dinners. I guess that was
Then the A.L. Bancrofts all came in — not when HHB was there,
but when his back was turned — with nuts and things. It was the
first time I'd ever done spiced nuts; they have been a great treat
which I've done for years and years. They were walnuts, because
you could walk any way and pick up as many walnuts as you could
possibly want. They were all so cheap.
MWB: And marvelous fruit always. In the wintertime, we had all this
wonderful dried fruit. They had huge drying pens, and HHB used
to love to go down and talk to the people. The men would be
picking the fruit, and the women would be bringing in great boxes
of fruit that was too ripe to ship, but perfectly good fruit.
Wives, daughters, anyone who could handle a knife, would do the
cutting. Then they sulphured them and sent them at that time to
a tremendous market in Scandinavian lands and England. Of course,
it was war time and fruit was a premium almost. They could work
just two or three hours a day. The women would come after they
had done their own cooking. Any woman who knew how to wield a
good kitchen knife — some people could do a huge tray in just
minutes. There were people who didn't. There was always a super
visor there to take out any blemishes .
Baum: Did you call those drying bins or pens?
MWB: Drying bins. Well, no. Trays. They were awkward. They were
maybe three feet by six feet. Then they had to be put onto shelves
where they were sulphured . They were dried with sulphur , then
bagged. We used to call prunes the poor man's fruit because only
poor people really ate prunes. When you think what the price is
now. That was one of the big jobs that went on all the time they
were picking pears, peaches, and apricots. They had more of a
general farm and then they brought it down, finally, to nothing
Baum: And pears.
MWB: Pears. Because they were the two that shipped the best. The pears,
you see, you pick green, anyway. You don't ever, ever let a pear
ripen on a tree. So many people don't realize that.
Baum: I know Phil Bancroft gave me a box of those premium Bancroft pears.
Those were something special.
MWB: Marvelous. Well, he won year after year at the state fair. They
were wrapped and you were supposed to put them under the bed, in
the dark, or wherever you wanted to put it, until they ripened.
Of course, the walnuts were all washed. Then they were sacked
into fifty-pound sacks. In 'those days, they didn't sell any,
hardly, that were cracked. I think the cracking came in later,
but not when we were there. They'd pick up some nuts that were
cracked and take them home. They wouldn't save them.
HHB knew every single detail of that farm regarding the growing
of the fruit and types of pears. Of course, it was Bartlett pears;
we didn't have anything but Bartlett pears. And a big vineyard.
We sold them as most of them were good eating grapes. They were
not wine grapes. We never had wine grapes there. Then, marvelous
MWB: peaches and nectarines. Of course, they had persimmons and things
like that, but that was just around the house. They didn't sell
those. And beautiful figs. They were never sold. Everybody just
Baum: Was the market an eastern market or was it San Francisco?
MWB: Entirely East for the pears. Mostly Chicago and New York, but
really New York. They didn't raise Bartlett pears; at least they
didn't at that time. There was another pear. The Bartlett pears
were very special. They used to pack them by the carload to the
station, just a mile from the house, called Bancroft Station.
That went through to Sacramento. Then that was put on the main
line and sent to Chicago and New York.
Baum: I think you said that Phil was the one who managed the farm pretty
much, until he went away to the war.
MWB: No, it was the other way. Mr. Bancroft did it, but Phil helped,
and they each had a house there. But HHB was the one who was
really the business head. As Mr. Bancroft let go, Phil took over.
Paul did the financial end of it, the bookkeeping and all of that.
I think most of the decisions were made by Phil. Griff lived here
in San Diego from the time he got out of Harvard, which was in '99.
He graduated at twenty.
Baum: So the business arrangements were: Griff handled the San Diego
area, and Phil handled the farm and all of the problems except
financial, is that right?
MWB: And Paul kept the books, in San Francisco at 731 Market Street.
Baum: They also still had the publishing business, didn't they? Or was
that being reduced?
MWB: That was out of his hands, mostly. I think that was sold. HHB
would always visit it when he was in town. He'd go in maybe once
a week and stay overnight. He'd go in on the train sometimes, and
ferry and streetcar. After we had moved there and Phil had gone
to war, Griff used to drive him a good deal of the time. He'd
take him in and often spend the night in San Francisco with him.
Then he'd get tired. He was lonely. That was a huge house.
Baum: That was the big Huntington house.
MWB: Yes, and it was a lonely, lonely house.
Baum: When Mr. Bancroft went into San Francisco, did Ella go with him
MWB : Yes .
Baum: So she traveled with him to handle his cooking wherever he went.
MWB: Well, the cooking, but more the nursing. He had to have his legs
in and out of this hot water, and he needed help. Some days it was
hard on him. Some days he walked. He walked if he possibly could,
but so much of the time he'd just sit there in. the chair. He and
Griff would talk for hours. They would go back into history, but
more than anything else — and you will see that in those letters —
he was tutoring Griff on the subject of the written word. Now,
Griff was a terrific reader, but he was a little bit too wordy for
Mr. Bancroft. Now, he was pretty wordy himself. [laughter] But
he could see it more in Griff's writing than he could see it in his
own writing. Especially, Griff was writing this novel, The Inter
Baum: So Mr. Bancroft thought that Griff was a little too flowery?
MWB: In his writing.
Baum: Would Mr. Bancroft go over the manuscript with him?
MWB: You'll see in those letters that he went over page by page. Maybe
Mr. Bancroft would take it over to San Francisco. He was forever
sending mail. If he wanted to tell you something, he'd just dash
it off like that — write it as fast as he could and sign it HHB.
No heading. "Dear Griff, I give you very small thanks for the very
small job you did for me. HHB." [laughter] It was just typical
of him, everything he wrote like that. That's why his children were
just flooded with letters, good, bad, and indifferent, about any
thing he thought a person was doing wrong.
Baum: It was like talking back and forth with him all the time.
MWB: Entirely, but by letters. And from Walnut Creek. He never thought
of using the phone. In fact, there was only one telephone there
and that was in the office. We didn't have a telephone in our room.
We had to go to the office. He didn't like the telephone, anyway.
I don't remember ever speaking to him over a telephone. He would,
on occasion, if something was terribly important. He thought with
writing, there it was. You could say, "Well, I said so and so."
"No, you didn't — so and so." But if a person has written it, there
you are. It's down in black and white. That didn't keep him from
saying very caustic things at different times.
Baum: Oh, yes, I saw some of those letters.
MWB: Really very, very critical.
The Family - Relatives and Relationships
Baum: This year that you were in Walnut Creek — was it a whole year that
you were there?
MWB: Yes, we went there the first part of September, and we left there
the last part of September the following year. We were there, I
think it was, thirteen months.
Baum: It was right in the midst of the war.
MWB: Yes. We got back to San Diego. I remember that we rented a very
small house there, because the big house had burned down that the
Bancrofts had. Griff had been living in Coronada; then after that,
in the Cuyamaca Club. Part of the year, he had the children there
and had a house, a rented house.
Baum: So the reason you were staying in Walnut Creek was because of this
contested divorce, wasn't that it? Griff didn't want to be in San
MWB: Yes. It was contested divorce, plus it was contested —
Baum: It was kidnapping, wasn't it?
MWB: Yes. Kidnapping. [laughter] It was who would have control of the
children. Actually, the children settled it for themselves. By
the time it got up to the Supreme Court, the children were old
enough to make up their minds what they wanted to do. So the boys
stayed with us, and the girl, Barbara, stayed with her mother, who
was in Los Angeles for a while. Then she went back to New York,
and from that time on, she lived entirely in New York.
Baum: I see.
MWB: She'd [Ethel Works Bancroft] come out once in a while to visit her
father, who was Senator John Works, and her mother. I can't remem
ber the years that they died.
Baum: When you returned to San Diego the following September, was the
divorce completed then or did it drag on?
MWB: The decision, yes.
Baum: I see. So that's what permitted you to come back.
MWB : Yes .
Baum: Of course, Hubert Howe Bancroft had died by then.
MWB: Oh, yes. He was so sorry for Griff at the very thought of losing
those boys. Anything he could do — money or advice or hiring law
yers — anything, he would do it. The thought that these two boys
would be taken away from Griff united the family more than any
thing else had ever done. Griff wasn't under too good terms, at
one time, with Paul and Lou and his father. But they just closed
ranks like that at the idea of somebody taking those children away.
And it was true with Nina. But Phil was always the peacemaker,
always, of the family.
Baum: Did Paul and Lou live in San Francisco?
MWB: They lived right in San Francisco, always.
Baum: Was that at the Dunston Apartments?
MWB: They were at the Dunston at the time of the earthquake. Hubert
Howe and Matilda were there in apartments . So were Phil and Nina .
Nina's first child was born in 1907; that was the year after the
earthquake. Anne was born in '07, Lucy in '09, and Philip in '11.
Baum: You've got a marvelous memory. I thought Paul and Lou, at one time,
lived in San Diego. Is that not true?
MWB: She lived in San Diego. Lou Bancroft's family lived on 6th Street.
She was a very, very pretty woman, but she was a little older than
Paul. She was very active. Played tennis. Was a good bridge
player. They owned a home — I'm not sure where that home was —
right in San Francisco. Nina and Lou were just different — maybe
I would say almost a different culture and different way of life.
They just never did get along. There was always friction.
Baum: Sounds like Lou was more social, and I know Nina worked in politics
MWB: No. Lou wasn't social. Nina had a recognized position and Lou
never quite made it. But, there again, I hate to say that. Now
Paul, Jr. is definitely recognized.
Baum: Oh, yes, he's —
MWB: Jet set [laughter], but he's with us.
Baum: He appears on the society page of the San Francisco Chronicle, I
MWB: Oh, everywhere. Lou was a strange character. She'd often say
things that she thought were funny that weren't funny. She was a
different character entirely from Nina. Of course, Nina had a
very brilliant mind and a brilliant education; she came from very
aristocratic Philadelphia people.
VIII HUBERT HOWE BANCROFT ASKS ABOUT THE MOVIES
The Life of a Movie Starlet////
Baum: We were talking about life in Walnut Creek. You had told me about
some of the things H.H. Bancroft did. I wondered what you and he
might have talked about in the time when you could converse together.
MWB: Shall I tell you about the October when we got back and it rained?
The day that he talked about the movies?
Baum: All right, do.
MWB: The children — that would be Griff ing, Jr., Howe, Lucy, and Philip,
Jr. — came home from school very disgruntled because it was raining.
Griff had gone up to get them and they had nothing to do. They had
to stay inside. [interruption due to some domestic noises — a
Baum: You were telling me about this rainy October afternoon when the
children had nothing to do. [laughter]
MWB: Nothing to do. They came trooping into this big living room. Mr.
Bancroft was sitting there, talking to Griff about the book he was
writing — very seriously. But Griff was tired and I think Mr.
Bancroft was. Anne said, "Aunt Margaret, would you tell us about
being in the movies?" I was the first and only person they had
heard of being in the movies. I said, "Yes, I will. Will you
excuse me, Mr. Bancroft?" (I always called him Mr. Bancroft.)
He said, "Yes, but I'd just like to sit here beside the fire.
Maybe I'll go to sleep and maybe I'll listen to you." So I went
on, utterly ignoring him. They wanted to know about Charlie
Chaplin and all sorts of beautiful people that they had seen in
the movies. Now, mind you, this was 1917.
Baum: And the children had seen some movies.
MWB: Oh, a lot of movies. So I talked along these lines about the
movies. I'll tell you about that some other time. All of a
sudden, it stopped raining and the sun came out. I said, "The
lecture is over on movies. You all go out to play."
Mr. Bancroft waited until they went out. Then he said, "Would
you mind telling me about the movies?" I said, "What do you want
to know, Mr. Bancroft, about the movies?" "I want to know," he
said, "what kind of people they were. What were the directors
like? Did you know D.W. Griffith? Did you know Cecil De Mille?
Did you know Charlie Chaplin? You've told these stories, but I
want to really know."
So I explained to him why I went into the movies and how I came
to know the top people. It was through the Cecil De Milles,
originally, and also through Lillian Gish, who was a very good
friend of mine — my family's friend.
He asked me about their morals. Was it tough? I said it was
as tough as you allowed it to be.
He said, "Well, where did you live?" I told him I lived with
my oldest brother and his wife, who had no children, and that she
made my clothes and I managed to have beautiful clothes. Through
these friends, I managed to get around socially, as well as in
the movies, but I held my own. You would have called me, then, a
starlet. I went in in '13, September. In '14, I broke my ankle.
By the way, what I was to do in these movies — we were doing
westerns, and I knew how to drive a four -horse stagecoach and
how to do stunts on horseback, all those things of the Wild West.
They had a very good actress, Enid Markey was her name, very pretty,
very attractive girl. But she knew nothing about the West. She
came from somewhere, the East, I think. I was the one who did
that part of the movies. She was always the little girl that rode
inside the stagecoach.
About that time, I broke my ankle. A little boy hit my horse
and the horse slipped on the pavement. I threw myself free of him
but broke my ankle bone, and I was out for at least six months. I
went back to San Diego and then up into the mountains where we
lived. We had closed this little inn because my mother and sister
were visiting that winter in Kentucky. We let some people stay
there as caretakers. I went back up there and opened it up. The
family came back, and then my oldest sister came home from what she
was doing, and with TB, advanced stage, died there. That was in '14,
Baum: Which sister was that?
MWB: Elizabeth. She's the one who had studied dramatic art in New York.
She had great talent, which I didn't have. I had looks and a
certain ability to learn and all of that, but I didn't have the
talent or the voice that she did. She was to go on the stage, not
in the movies .
I had the bug, though. This time, I really wanted to go into
the movies, so I went to Los Angeles and lived with my brother and
sister-in-law and went to the Egan Dramatic School in Los Angeles,
which was at that time the best there was. But it was more for the
stage. They looked down their noses at movies, but they were also
delighted when one of their pupils went in. I was there, I guess,
maybe two months. Through a friend — again — I got a job. That
friend was Frances Marion, who was a great writer afterwards, for
the movies. She tried acting and she couldn't, but she got this
job for me with the Bosworth Studio, which was doing stories of
Jack London's. Then we went into different stories. One of the
things we did was Captain Courtesy, a story of the West. It was
done by Douglas Fairbanks . I was the duenna for the lead —
Baum: What's that word?
MWB: D-u-e-n-n-a. It's like a companion, not a nurse, a companion for a
young woman. There was a funny thing connected with that, too.
[laughter] It was a written story first. After we did the story,
and Douglas Fairbanks was rushing to get back to New York, they
discovered a great deal of the background was of eucalyptus. The
eucalyptus were not brought from Australia to California till 1849
and this story was in 1847. They had to redo the entire outdoor
part of the story. We worked day and night, which was marvelous.
It was a small cast we had. They paid so much, except for the
stars. When we worked, if we didn't have a part, we were paid a
certain amount. If you had any kind of a part, they trebled, or
more than that, your salary. It was a living wage, you see. Like
the old-fashioned — I'm trying to think of the word — where there was
a group of people, a company —
Baum: A repertory company?
MWB: Yes, though that isn't quite the word I was trying to think of.
Then this friend who had taught me and was very interested in
my career, a very, very much older man by the name of Alfred Allen,
thought I should be shifted to another studio. I had a chance to
go and play a part at the D.W. Griffith studio. So I went over and
played. They had a famous English actor who was playing this part.
Margaret Wood in Remorse of an Outlaw, 1913
I Broadway Theatre
WED., THURS., FRI., SAT.
— IN —
A Bosworth Production of Great Strength.
The many friends of Margaret Wood, a for
mer San Diego girl, will be glad to see her in
ALSO, PATHE SEMI-WEEKLY
Movie advertisement, about 1914
TH* BAN DIEQO SUN
Q CLLJOS ET
Former Soda/ Favorite Here
Winning Fame in the Mowesljj
MISS IIARQ ARET WOOD.
fhe San Diego Sun
Saturday May 15, 1915
Mlaa Margaret Wood, the prettj
ud attractive daughter of Mm
Cora C. Wood, of Witch Truck
who wu f'irni"rlT m codal fa*arlt<
h«re, U on* of the few San D1«(o
i who are aaeendlng th« ladder
of fame In the movie world.
Walk) In San Diego. MlM Wood
tMtded the convent. "Our Ladr
of Pwae*." and later ihe att
"Inmaculate Heart" conn-nt
la Bollywood. H«r mtrano int..
mo»l<-» wa« pur*lr accidental
and 11 cam* about with lha. Am
•ei Companr. at National Cl
TB« leadlnr womao for tba Amm.
M tie time MlM Wood bliM»l
ld«Btlfl*d with the companr f*
oaabta to handle boraea. an' ••*
Wood, who had a MpMMVP for
MB| • raarlMi rider. WM a-*«« If
would not undertake th* lead
on* plajr In which aha would
f to rtri.e a ita(a with
tTodaunted. ah» act-anted.
•tirreaa wai Immedlata. but
•atinfled with her preparation Tof
•tage life, the Sa«DI«go girl went
- o IXM Angelea. where for a ahort
int* «he attended a dramatic
Prom herv the Joined the Para-
BKiu-ii Co. and played with Duatift,
117 F«rnA|ftr*h metrral plcturaa ind
•ei acaln wfth Bid* Janla and Mack-
MM Irn Arburkle.
ffna MlM Wood haa beea In tha
•W movt* world leM tban a rear an—J
for many predict a brllllaat fulur* toil
MWB : There again, I played a second lead, not a lead. We were on that
for a long time. It wasn't particularly successful. It was when
the English first were trying to break into movies. It was a tech
nique that a lot of the old actors didn't manage very well. But
this older man did. After about six months there, I went to the
Charlie Chaplin studio. It was not Charlie Chaplin; it was —
Baum: Mack Sennett?
Mack Sennett Studio; Charlie and Sidney Chaplin
MWB: Mack Sennett, yes. I worked most of the time with a director. They
were all under Mack Sennett. He had maybe four stories going at one
time and he was a sort of super director for these stories. I was
with Charlie Chaplin's brother, Sidney Chaplin, who was a good
director and a poor actor. Charlie Chaplin wasn't working at the
time. He used to come over, day after day, and fool around with us.
He was a clown if you ever met one. He truly was a clown.
I'll never forget this one director we had who would get awfully
excited and would run his hands through his hair, kind of pull his
tie, and just get terribly excited. In this story, the man was an
Asian potentate of some Asian country. We went down when he came
in and bowed right down to the floor. Charlie Chaplin was standing
directly behind this director. Just with a twist of his hands, he
threw his hair up like this [gestures] and twisted his hat and went
through the same directions the director did, and we came up roaring
with laughter. The director went into a blind rage. He said, "How
many times do I have to tell you women that you're to look up with
adoration?! They don't want grins from you and laughter." Of course,
the noise made no difference. He looked around and saw our eyes
focused, and there was Charlie Chaplin, hair pushed back, talking
with someone as though he hadn't heard the whole commotion at all.
And that was Charlie Chaplin. [laughter]
Then it snowed. We went up Mt. Baldy to do a picture. I think
it was the first picture they ever did on skis. There was another
girl, very, very blonde, and I was dark-haired. We were the only
two girls. Sidney always had his wife with him.
Charlie came up there. We couldn't go out one whole afternoon
and evening. He and Sidney sat and told us about their training in
London, in England. They were working out — never very much in
London, but out — and they had to put on a skit that lasted just
four minutes, when our skits lasted at least ten minutes for vaude
ville. How terribly fast they had to do it. Every movement counted
to put across the thing in four minutes .
MWB: He told about one time, being in a small English town. They were
staying in kind of a boarding house, the whole group. They told
him at the table that there was a ghost that had been there, year
after year, always within a week. It would walk across — and you
could see where it had walked across — the ceiling. So Charlie
Chaplin, who wasn't a very generous man, gave tickets to every
person who worked there. Then they were to go back there to supper.
His act was the first. Then he didn't have to go on again until
the last. So the minute he got through the first act, he and his
brother slipped back to this place. He blackened his feet. The
brother, with a table and a couple of chairs, put him up, and he
walked across, diagonally, from one window to another window, and
went out the window, and then went back to the theater. They
cleaned themselves up, then did his last act. Then they came back
with the group to dinner. All of a sudden, someone looked up and
saw on the ceiling the footprints, and it threw them into such
commotion. He said everybody rushed out, just terrified. They
didn't even eat their supper. So they had a lot to eat that night,
[laughter] Never told it — never told it. Oh, he was fun! He was
a fun person.
Baum: Charlie Chaplin, then. Was Sidney fun?
MWB: Yes, Sidney was. They were gross; they were common. And she
[Sidney's wife] was impossible, one of the commonest people I think
I ever knew in my life. Sidney had a lot of brains; he just didn't
have the finesse that Charlie had, that almost light touch of
putting a thing across. He was heavier, a little bit the clumsy
type. Charlie Chaplin was almost dainty in the things he did.
Baum: Oh, yes. He was a ballet dancer almost, in the way he moved.
MWB: We were down at Christopher's once with our full makeup in Los
Angeles. It was a big ice cream parlor and I think they had sand
wiches or something. We were working on the street right beside
it. In those days, people let you do anything. They thought it
was good advertising.
We were sitting there talking about characteristics. I said,
"Well, the funniest thing. My brother-in-law just came from the
East and he sat on a train, side by side, with a man at dinner.
This man started by cutting his meat, buttering the bread, getting
everything ready. Had on stiff cuffs. Then he'd just eat boom-
boom, boom-boom-boom, like this. Then he'd slip the knife and
forks down the stiff cuffs. He'd grab his corn and just go up and
down, up and down, with the corn. Then put it down. At the same
time, he'd grab some bread. He'd be through in about ten minutes.
A dinner that would have taken somebody else about half an hour."
MWB: All of a sudden, I felt something — a bang like that [gestures] on
my leg. He'd never been familiar in any way. He, just out of the
corner of his mouth, said, "Change it." I quit right in the middle
of the story.
Baum: Wait a minute. Who said —
MWB: Charlie Chaplin to me. Just hit me.
Baum: Charlie Chaplin was sitting next to you —
MWB: He was sitting next to me in a tight little booth, you see. I was
telling the story, and I could tell by the way he hit me that he
wanted me to shut up.
Baum: It was important, yes.
MWB: He picked up immediately with another story. The second we got out,
he said, "My God, don't do a thing like that, ever again! Don't
you know we could use that story? You don't tell that outside of a
Baum: It sounds like a script for one of his little shows.
MWB: Within a very few weeks, he had that in one of his stories.
Baum: Is that right?
MWB: I think I've got the name of that story, but I'm not sure.
Baum: So that's how he got his ideas. He just picked them up out of the
MWB: He saw something like that and he did it perfectly. [interrupted
by ringing telephone]
Shall I go back now to Mr. Bancroft?
Baum: Those are the kind of stories you told Mr. Bancroft.
MWB: He was very anxious and I told him what type of people they were.
Some of them, like the De Milles, had great culture. Back and
forward, I talked about the different people. No one could have
been a sweeter person, say, than —
MWB: Not Griffith, but he was a tough, hard-boiled person. But the
Baum: Lillian Gish.
MWB: Lillian Gish. Very sweet.
Baum: She was America's sweetheart, wasn't she?
MWB: No, but she was dainty, a nice and a cultured person. Mr. Bancroft,
I think, was finding out how much I had been tarnished by the movies,
He knew my mother and father, knew where I came from. But I think
that, back of it all, he was terribly interested in how much of this
had brushed off on me. He asked me several times about where I
lived and what I did. My brother was living right in Los Angeles
and I would go out to Hollywood on a red streetcar to the Griffith
studio, to all the different studios, in doing this work, and would
come home at night. In those days, most of the pictures were taken
out-of-doors or, at best, under canvas. They'd go to a real loca
tion. There was a great deal of it done on location. We'd go up
to Camp Baldy, for almost two weeks. Joy Lewis was the name of the
girl. She was like I was; she dropped out and married.
Baum: Was she the very blonde girl you were talking about?
MWB: Yes. She was as pretty as a picture. All we were was just back
ground. But this time, when we were up at Camp Baldy, one of the
professional skiers said he'd like to teach me how to ski. Of
course, I had a lot of coordination; I had done so many athletic
things. Avery said no, no way could he do it because he wanted us
to fall as though we were not skiers. The whole point of the story
was that we weren't skiers. We'd get up and the skis would go this
way and that way and every direction. That was the comedy of it,
Baum: Who was Avery?
MWB: He was the director.
Baum: Was that his last name?
MWB: Avery. Yes. I think I have those written down. We'd go there in
company cars. Once we went over to Catalina. We only worked when
the ferry was in. At that time, everyone went over there by ferry.
We had to fall off a ship. Now, we had to be swimmers. We would
just be pushed off, shoved off, anything else, and dropped right
down into the water. We had professional people there, too.
Baum: For the scene.
MWB: For the scene, yes. We'd just be throwing our hands out wildly,
Baum: I've seen some of those old movies where you just go this way and
MWB: Absolutely. Of course, I didn't because I knew a great deal about
swimming. It was all right. It would be just three hours that we'd
work, and then the ship would go back, and we'd have the rest of the
time. Some of it could be pretty rough. It was a question of taking
care of yourself.
Courtney Foote, who was an English actor, one day said to one of
the directors, "Leave Margaret alone. Stop badgering her. She
happens to be the only lady at this studio, and you leave her a
lady." A little later, Courtney asked about what part he was going
to have next, and I said, "What about me?" He said, "You don't get
a part." I didn't. That ended that. It was lots of times.
Baum: Was that because you were still a lady?
MWB: Yes. I just wouldn't put up with any shenanigans. I wouldn't put
up with being hugged and kissed and shenanigans. There were plenty
of other girls who didn't. But I always had a home. I always had
food. I can understand. And, of course, a lot of the girls would
think, "Well, if I sleep with him, why, he'll give me a part."
Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn't. But I was completely
Baum: Were there a lot of girls on their own with no family?
MWB: Yes. They'd come out west and just do anything to make themselves
be seen and heard, and make up to these men. I was terribly
interested in reading about dramatics, and I always had a book.
They used to kid me. They'd say, "What in the world are you study
ing now?" I might just be reading a novel, but I was a great
reader. Mostly reading about past artists, past great actors and
actresses, because I really aspired to it.
A Storm Ends Margaret's Movie Career
MWB: We had a big storm. The whole railway from San Diego to Los
Angeles, the Santa Fe, was washed out. Just then, the second
sister of mine, Susie May, was ill. They closed the studios. I
think they must have been closed for nearly two months, and just
let all of us go. They couldn't work because the whole studio
was practically washed away. I think it was the first of February,
in 1916. One of my beaux, who had nothing to do with the movies,
MWB: took me down to San Pedro, I guess it was. As I stepped over the
ship to the side and was waving to him, this man came up and said,
"I want to know how your sister, Susie May, is." And I said, "Well,
she isn't well." I looked at this man and I couldn't quite think
who he was. Then it came to me. He was Griff ing Bancroft. I'd
met him in the mountains and known him way back as my sister's
friend. He was in the same age group, social group, that she was.
He began figuring around. He knew we were five sisters and he
finally worked it down. All of a sudden, I said, "Do you want to
know which one I am? I'm Margaret." [laughter] I asked him about
his wife and his children. He said that they were getting a divorce.
It blacked out — fog — that night. There were quite a few other people
we knew. We got together with them and we danced away the night and
weren't able to come in until early in the morning. He was very
smitten. My brother-in-law met me at the dock. Griff said he'd
drive up as far as the Cuyamaca Club with him. The minute he got
out of the car, my brother-in-law said, "Margaret, do you know that
man — "
MWB: My brother-in-law said, "You've got a good reputation in this city
and you're going to keep it."
About that time, we got home and he told my sister, Susie May,
that Griff had taken him up to the Cuyamaca Club and said he wanted
to come out and see Margaret. I said, "Oh, don't make a fuss. Any
body might be pleasant like that." Well, the next afternoon, a car
came up the driveway. It was a big house they had, out towards
east San Diego. It was Griff. He came to see Susie May. Susie
May was a very charming hostess.
He told us very frankly that he was getting a divorce. He had
not filed because his father-in-law was going to run for the United
States Senate again. A divorce was a scandal, you see. That was
Senator Works, going for his second term. He wasn't going to file,
but, definitely, they had been separated. She had been east for
months, which Susie May knew about. Griff said he thought it would
do Susie May good to take a ride. He had a big car. Homer was not
there, her husband. She said very good-naturedly she thought it
would be lovely. Then he kept coming and coming and coming.
There was my romance. I gave up movies and everything else.
But , every time I got mad at him, which I often did, and we fought,
I would say, "Well, I'm going back to the movies." I had a very
definite understanding that any time I wanted to go back, I could
go back in the same position. It was a cast, really, a group of
people that if you weren't given a speaking part, then you worked
MWB: like an extra would work. Anything they asked you to do. They
particularly liked me because I could wear an evening dress just
as well as I could wear cowboy clothes, anything else.
Baum: I've seen your picture. I expect they did like you.
MWB: I was very adaptable. A lot of the people were not. They would be
cast only in one type of story. They just didn't belong in a cast.
Of course, that's true on stage. They used to have these companies;
we used to have it right here in San Diego, and they played all
sorts of plays. When you had a speaking part, you got one salary,
and when you didn't, you still got enough to live on. But this
time, when they closed down the studio, except for the top people,
they just had to take a vacation, all of them.
Baum: Because of the storm?
MWB: Oh, yes. It was one of the heaviest rainfalls that we ever had.
At that time, you could look right across Mission Valley and it
was from wall to wall, from side to side, just a great mass of
water going down. It may happen again. They say it never will
because they've done so much engineering on it, and control the
water and all that. So, there's my story, my love story.
The Cecil De Milles
Baum: So that was your movie career. You mentioned knowing the De Milles.
I wondered how you had met them.
MWB: There were always friends of friends. We never advertised at Witch
Creek. They were friends of friends. A woman came up there to
stay two weeks, and she stayed two years, on and off. She was a
first cousin of Constance De Mille. Her name was Dixie Drummond.
Now, Constance De Mille was quite a beautiful woman, but she
never got very far in pictures. I think she was on the stage a
little. A very handsome woman and very much of a thoroughbred.
She married De Mille and started to divorce him. It was his first
affair, I guess it was. She came west to be with a cousin and came
to Witch Creek. She became so interested in my sister and her
Baum: This was Elizabeth.
MWB: Yes, it was Elizabeth. Cora had a lot of dramatic ability, too.
I was a wild little Indian at this time and didn't even think about
it. Constance De Mille took this sister and took a house somewhere
out of Los Angeles. I can't quite remember where it was. Then she
finally went back to him, from that time on. He had his love
affairs. She said one time — I remember it so distinctly — at a
luncheon in her house, it came up. People, of course, didn't know
her background at all, how a person would take it with a regular
mistress. She said, "I don't know why people fuss about that. If
a man has chosen, as my husband has, for me to be mistress of his
home, bear his children, I'm not going to worry what he does away
from home." And she never did from that time on. When she was
with us, she always said that my mother was the one who talked her
into going back to Cecil De Mille.
D.W. Griffith; Dorothy and Lillian Gish; Mae Marsh
MWB: So when I got up there to Los Angeles and became interested, they
were awfully nice about giving letters of introduction. Alfred
Allen was a very much older person who thought I had dramatic
ability. He gave me a tiny card to William Griffith. That was an
experience. When I went to see him, he was sitting at the very
end of a long office, with his desk facing the door. I came in
that door; I think it must have been a mile. Actually, I suppose
it was fifty feet. But at that time, with this man staring at you,
not saying a word —
Baum: That was Griffith staring —
MWB: D.W. Griffith. By the time you got up to him, and he just motioned
for you to sit down in that chair, he had judged whether you had
poise and grace. I'd been given a little tip-off by Alfred Allen.
He said, "Don't let him throw you." He explained to me more or
less what he did, because he'd seen him do it. He talked to me for
about half an hour and said to come over to the studio and take my
potluck in the thing. Then he handed me his little card and I have
it to this day. He said, "Maybe you'd like to take this card.
Maybe it will be a memento in after years."
Baum: The card that —
MWB: Alfred Allen—
Baum: Alfred Allen had given you that got you in the door.
MWB: That got me in the door. The main thing is to get you in the door,
you know, in life, because you can't do anything beyond opening a
door to a person. It's getting that door open. And he was guarded
on all sides. It was like going to meet a king. He was a king in
his own right. I wasn't his type. I never worked for him directly.
Yes, I did. I worked in one huge — that name doesn't come back to
me. It was not a great success. It was four periods. It started
with Babylon, the period of Christ —
Baum: Was that Intolerance?
MWB: Intolerance. You've got it, my friend, you've got it. The third
was the Renaissance and the fourth was completely modern. It was
that darling little girl who was thrown over the cliff or jumped
over the cliff with a black man after her in the greatest play that
he ever did.
Baum: That one I don't know.
MWB: Yes, you do know it, because everybody your age saw it. I'll think
of it. He made the greatest mistake in this. At that time, people
were not willing to have Christ portrayed on the screen. They
veiled it finally. There was very, very little of that whole story.
I worked in it for months. I was a princess being carried on a
palanquin by four huge, black Africans. Christ was ahead, carrying
the cross, and they knocked him off to the side to let me go by.
While we were rehearsing it, one of these black men had a terrible
epileptic fit. I rolled off the palanquin right down into the dust
and dirt at the side of the road. I had draperies and jewelry just
absolutely covered with it and was lying there in great luxury. I
got so wound up in these draperies at the bottom of the little ditch
that I couldn't move a muscle. They had to come and unwrap me and
then take me back to the studio to get me all done up again.
Baum: You were all dirty by then.
MWB: Not only dirty, but everything was torn. You couldn't imagine what
confusion there was. Seeing that man, the rest of them just went
wild. They didn't know what had happened. They dropped it. When
he fell, I just went off one corner of it. It took hours. There
were always things like that happening in the movies.
Baum: That sounds like an interesting enough scene that they'd write it
into the show. But they didn't, did they?
MWB: No, because it was too serious a thing. Now they would, but in
those days they wouldn't. But they cut almost everything out. I
don't think there's even that scene.
Baum: They decided not to show anything about Christ.
MWB: There's just a little shadow of it. There was a very strong
religious feeling that ran through the feeling at that time.
They weren't ready for it.
Baum: Did you have any direct dealings with D.W. Griffith, or was he
too much above?
MWB: No. I watched him direct. You had pretty much the run of the
studio, walking around and all.
Lillian Gish was a charming, sweet, gentle person. She wasn't
a bit well. She was really almost an invalid. The minute she
would finish anything, they always had a couch and would put her
on this couch. Very often, she would ask someone to go over and
get me. I'd go and sit with her and talk; sometimes have a lunch
that would be brought. She was interested because of this friend
who, at one time, was a dramatic teacher. It was an old friend
of Lillian Gish's and of Mrs. Gish and — what was the other
MWB: Dorothy. She was not the apple of his eye, at that time. I don't
think he was directing the picture, but she was working in it.
Mae Marsh was the little girl. Then she came next. He always had
one. They were almost all rather frail, just exotic. They were
not the showy type that afterwards became so popular. Different
types at that time.
Baum: The siren type became popular.
MWB: That's it. That was the next type that came in. Lillian's sister
was cuter, kind of a babbling type of person. I remember Lillian
Gish did that one down on the wharves of London. Wistful — she
was a wistful person.
Baum: And that was her quality off camera as well as on.
MWB: Yes. Oh, yes.
Baum: You say she really was that frail.
MWB: She was at that time. I think she always was, more or less. Mrs.
Gish stayed right with those girls. Dorothy was the strong one.
Did Lillian Gish have TB? Do you know?
MWB: No, I don't think so. She's still alive. No, she's a stronger
person today than she was then. I don't know what it was. I did
play in. one part with her. It was a story of New Orleans where they
shipped a whole group of girls from France to New Orleans .
Baum: The bride ships.
MWB: Yes. I was one. Lillian Gish was one. The story is, of course,
of how she survived. I think I've got that picture. I'm half
drunk up against a wall in a saloon in New Orleans. [laughter]
But you see, I had such interest in them; I was interested, but I
wasn't always posing to make an impression because I was too busy
studying. She gave me a lot of good advice. One of them was not
to burn myself out — to go slowly. Don't think that you had to
reach stardom in just a short time. Mary Pickford was the ideal
one, the first one. Then Lillian and Dorothy came afterwards.
Then Mae Marsh, Miriam Cooper. There were many who came at that
period that he liked particularly.
Baum: Were they girl friends of D.W. Griffith as well as stars?
MWB: It was always said so. I don't know. I often wondered about
Lillian, whether she ever — no one knows. But he had favorites,
just favorites. He went from one to another. I don't think he
was ever married. Years later, when I was married and going
strong, we were down at Agua Caliente at the big hotel and
gambling place. I went into the five-dollar room, I guess it
was, with somebody, and there was D.W. Griffith. Now, to me,
when I saw him, he was seven feet high — in my mind — this powerful
Baum: When you were a starlet.
MWB: Yes. When he walked, it was as though God had walked in, to any
studio. Everyone was electrified by him. This was after he had
stopped making movies, after he had stopped being the most
important director in the world.
And here was this rather insignificant person, not one soul
beside him, and I came up from behind. I said, "How do you do,
Mr. Griffith?" He looked up and said, "I remember you! You
worked for us, didn't you? Didn't I direct you in something?"
I said, "My name was a very common name, Margaret Wood." He
said, "Yes, I remember." We had a pleasant talk for a few
minutes. I'll never forget! I really thought he was the tallest,
most important man in the world because the whole studio revolved
around him. There were plenty, a half dozen or so, other directors,
but they didn't mean a thing to us. You went out and did your job
with them, whether it was Griffith or whoever.
MWB: I remember him talking with Mae Marsh one time. She was just like
a little kitten — very small — and smart. He never worked without
his head photographer. The man who did the photography was Bitzer,
I think it was. He was a terrifically important person. Then
there was the woman who cut for him. They had to cut the story
every night and put it together again. We were always allowed to
go in. You could stay as long as you wanted to and see these
things done. It was comparatively small, the whole deal. Well, it
still is in some ways at some of the studios. He would always sit,
this man on one side; and on the other side, his cutter, a very
plain woman. You'd have thought she was probably going to sell
dresses to you. But they were very nearly the right and the left
hands of that man. I was interested in studying the photography of
it — the angles and all of that.
One of the photographers who was with Sid Chaplin was a very good
man who gave me a great deal of information. I remember one time
watching Mae Marsh do a scene. It was not this man, Bitzer, who
was doing it. This was past the time that she was with Griffith.
She kept saying, "You've got to bring that camera nearer." "You've
got to do this, that, and the other. I'm so small. My face is
small." She kept telling this man — he was a comparatively new
photographer — what was necessary to give her the right angles. Of
course, that's true. They can make or break you, a photographer
can. A lot of the girls just didn't know it.
Baum: They left it to the photographer, I suppose.
MWB: Well, the photographer, in many instances, knew more than the
director. The director would know the whole story, especially if
he was photographing on someone like that and centering it. D.W.
Griffith was the first person who used the close-up. I think that
was the greatest thing he ever did — the southern story. That was
our model. If we ever had any time off, we were supposed to go in
and watch that. I saw it maybe a dozen times.
Baum: The one with the Ku Klux Klan in it.
MWB: Yes. It was called Klansman . Then they changed it to Birth of the
Nation. As Klansman, it couldn't go in the South, so they had to
change it to Birth of the Nation. We could get into the theater
with a special ticket or something, as a student.
Baum: You mean that was your extra assignment when you were in dramatic
MWB: Dramatic school and also when we were working.
Baum: Oh, working at the studios. You still went and studied that movie.
MWB: Yes. It was the most modern, the photography was. It was the very
first time that they used the close-up.
Baum: Were there any women who were interested in being photographers?
MWB: I don't ever remember a woman at all. Nearly always, the photo
grapher had an assistant. I don't remember any women in that and
I don't ever remember an assistant to the director, who was sort
of a man Friday. But the girls who were smart, like the Gish girls
and Mae Marsh, knew the angles. They knew that one side of her
face was better than the other. The tip of the chin. The whole
thing. It's a vast study, no question about it. The vogue just
kept coming on in waves almost, and the vogue of the type of play.
Now, the westerns went out completely and we went into social.
Great pictures of big society and all of that. They then went
back. Now they're back into westerns just as a regular thing.
That's, of course, more television. To this day, if I feel tired
or restless and my brain is addled, I turn back to one of these
old westerns. I love the sound of the horses and the cattle. That
just quiets me down. Think we're through for a little while?
Baum: All right. Before we stop, I wonder if you could say something
about Cecil De Mille. Did you ever see him around the De Mille
MWB: Yes, I did. I saw more of her. I was there a couple of times for
lunch with her. I had the greatest admiration in the world for her.
You see, in the period of time that we knew her best, we knew the
worst about him. Naturally, we were sympathetic to her. From that
time on, when she went back, I don't think there was a single time
that she didn't carry through magnificently. My sister-in-law
helped her in two or three causes they were interested in because
of Dixie Drummond , and kept up the contact. She kept up the contact,
really more than I did, because there was such a difference in age.
I knew them only by second hand — I wouldn't really say there was any
first hand. They used to have big Sunday night suppers. You'd talk
to them a minute. "How are you doing?" and that was it. I never
worked in his studio.
Baum: You said that Mr. Bancroft was exceedingly interested in your movie
career. What was going on in the movies?
MWB: I think his angle was that he had heard so many stories. He was an
avid newspaper reader, or magazine, or anything. He ate books. He
averaged a book a day besides what he did in his writing and every
thing. At least when we were living there, he would get a big box
MWB: of books from New York and open it up. You could take any book you
wanted. There would be anything almost. He had connections in New
York. His agent there sent him these books. He knew pretty much
what he'd read. He was the most avaricious reader I ever knew in
I never saw him except in his own environment, except the time
I was with him in Yosemite. We set that environment as near as we
could to make him comfortable. He was devoted to Nina. She under
stood him. And he showed a devotion to me. I never heard him say
anything unkind about Nina. He had great respect for her education,
her point of view, and the way she was handling her children. He
was terribly anxious to have a real mother for Griff's two boys.
I think that's why he was boring into my life. He had spent a
week — two weeks, I think he said in that letter. Do you remember?
I read you that letter.
Baum: Yes. At Witch Creek.
MWB: At Witch Creek. It was very vivid in his mind.
Baum: I wondered if his interest in the movies represented a kind of
continuing interest in everything that was new in the history of
MWB: Yes, it did.
IX THE WOOD FAMILY OF KENTUCKY AND WITCH CREEK, CALIFORNIA
[Interview 4: July 3, 1977 ]#//
The Wood Family in Glasgow, Kentucky
Baum: I wonder if we could get a sketchy story of your family and back
ground, starting with your father and mother — who they were and
where they came from.
MWB: My family came from Kentucky, a town called Glasgow, almost on the
Tennessee border. It was tobacco and some hillbilly country. My
grandparents and my parents were all born in Glasgow, Kentucky. I
was the baby of eight children, born in Glasgow, Kentucky. My
father's people were pure Scotch. My mother's people were Irish,
English, and a little French.
Baum: What was your father's name?
MWB: My father's name was Clarence Wood. My mother's name was Cora
Baum: In your father's family, do you know what his father's name and
mother's and maiden name were?
MWB: I'd have to look it up in the Bible. [laughter] It's all in the
Bible. But I can look it up, if you'd like. The same with my
Baum: What was your father's education there in Glasgow?
MWB: My father's education was going to school there and then to some
southern Presbyterian college. I would say it was, at the most,
the very end of our high school of today. My mother's education
MWB: was first in Glasgow. Then her family moved to Vicksburg,
Mississippi to get away from the war. By that time, the war was
coming in. We were very southern. My grandparents had a horse
farm in Vicksburg.
Baum: Your maternal grandparents.
MWB: Yes, maternal. Because there were six young children — two boys
and four girls — they moved, by wagon, to Vicksburg, carrying a
great deal of their equipment and horses, buggies, and wagons.
They spent every night at plantations, which was a custom of that
country. They got to Vicksburg and settled down on a farm. It
wasn't any time until they were in the siege of Vicksburg. One
of the first things that happened when the northern soldiers came
in was to steal — take possession, or whatever you want to call it,
you northerners — [laughter] the cattle and the horses. Among them
was a beautiful pony that belonged to the children. That pony was
given to Ulysses Grant and is pictured now in the White House with
one of Grant's daughters on it. We felt very bitterly about that.
So you became a Yankee despite yourself? One segment of the
family — the horse — [laughter]
MWB: The horse. We didn't give it; it was stolen. There was really
great bitterness. After the war was over, my maternal grandparents
moved to Cairo, Illinois with the six children, to get away from
the carpetbaggers, and from the terrible unrest and trouble there
was over the declaration when they freed the slaves.
Baum: The Emancipation Proclamation.
MWB: My mother went to a Catholic school in St. Louis and wanted to
become a Catholic. Her family wouldn't let her become [a Catholic]
until she was twenty-one. She went back to Cairo and taught when
she was sixteen and a half years old because her father had taught
her a great deal. There was no one to teach the school and my
mother taught. She had children, some of them as old as she was.
One of the stories she always told was about these two boys saying,
"Wish the teacher'd come, wish the teacher'd come." She said, "I
am the teacher." This went on until she had to ask two other boys
to hold them while she spanked them. [laughter] After that, she
had control of the situation. But they didn't make a go of it.
They went back to Glasgow, where their heart was.
Baum: The whole family.
MWB: The whole family went back to Glasgow and stayed there. My mother
and father were married.
My mother taught school before she was married. She got, between
education here and there, to where she was teaching in what they
called a college, but, really, it wasn't. It was almost like a
senior high school. She didn't marry until she was twenty-four;
that made her an old maid. She was the oldest of her sisters.
She married my father, who was five years older. He was well
beyond the period of time that most people in the South married.
They used to marry very much younger. There we lived. They were
married in 1876 and I was born in 1893. A year after I was born,
my oldest brother died of tuberculosis.
Before we get to the children, I wonder if we could go back and
get your father here on his schooling. Had he left Glasgow or
stayed there always?
He had stayed there. There was one period that they did move to
Kansas City. He was in what you'd call the heavy hardware — buggies,
wagons, heavy machinery and hardware combined.
Was this a family business, or was it his own?
father been involved in it?
That is, had his
I just don't know that. But I do know he was in it and tried to
make a go of it in Kansas City. They were so lonely, I think, for
Kentucky, and they got into a great cyclone, and that finished
them. They didn't have cyclones in Glasgow. After my brother
died, my mother refused to go back to the home we had.
Now, let's see, they were married in 1876. Then all these other
children arrived before you. You were the baby.
I was the baby. We were about two years apart, right down the line.
Could you name the children in order of birth?
Oh, yes. There was Ashton, Joseph, Elizabeth, Susie May, Mickle,
Cora, Johnson, and myself, Margaret.
So between 1878 about and 1893 —
1877 my brother was born.
You said the year you were born your brother died?
A year after. He died in 1894. Mother had been corresponding with
a doctor who had moved to San Diego, a doctor by the name of Winn.
He advised her very strongly to move us to California because San
MWB: Diego was perfect. He was afraid the rest of us would die of
tuberculosis. It was rampant at that time, up and down the
Mississippi River, or near the Mississippi, or near the Ohio.
Baum: Is that what your brother Ashton died of? TB?
MWB: Yes, TB.
In '99, Glasgow had a tremendous fire. My father was then a
director of the bank and a director of the branch railroad of the
L&M that came down to Glasgow. He was a very prosperous person,
but he was not strong, either. Mother was determined, when this
fire came, that that was the break. We could get to California
and we were well-insured. In fact, after it was all over and we
came to California, we used to tease my mother and say she was the
one who set it afire. [laughter]
I still remember. I was in a trundle bed in my parents' room.
Behind the curtains was the trundle bed. This Negro knocked on
the door just at six o'clock and said, "Mars Clarence, Mars Clarence,
the whole town done burned up'." And with that, my father said, "Get
my horse I Get my horse!" In a very few minutes, he was on his way.
It was a full mile to ride with this black man with him. He'd take
care of the horse. It was a town that had a center courthouse,
typical of many of the southern towns. The whole block facing the
courthouse had burned, but they had it under control. But we lost
every single thing. It was complete destruction. Fortunately,
when we had taken a house after my brother Ashton died, it was in
litigation and we had an option to buy it and had not bought it.
We were able to cancel out on that.
Baum: You were living in a house which you had an option to buy but didn't
MWB: We didn't own it.
Baum: You could cancel that. I think that your mother refused to live in
your old house after your brother died, was that right?
MWB: Yes. And we had immediately to move again.
Baum: So you sold that one.
MWB: Yes, that house was sold.
Baum: I see. So you were sort of in a liquid condition then.
MWB : We happened to be, at that particular moment. Also, my father said
he wouldn't leave until his own mother was gone, and she had died
two years before that. That was the only thing that was really
holding him back.
Baum: Did you consider yourself a farm family or a city family?
MWB: No, we were a town family, definitely. My mother's brother was a
tobacco grower. Another brother — I guess they both were farmers.
But growing tobacco, you had an enormous amount of black labor.
Then sometimes they had fruit and vegetables and things like that.
I know when we were getting ready, my sister, brother, and myself
were shipped out into the country — maybe it was only five or six
miles out — to stay with an uncle and aunt. I remember that so
distinctly because he had a couple of boxes of plums that he would
take into the general store and get credit for it. That's the way
they sold so many of their vegetables. There was a lot of trade.
We thought it would make it prettier if we made them shiny, so we
found a bottle of vaseline and spent a couple of hours polishing
the plums. [laughter] My uncle got in the car without looking.
It was some form of a little truck he was driving. He got to town
and they said, "There's something wrong with these." You know,
that lovely bloom that's on a plum — we'd taken it all off. We were
in a little trouble when he got home. [laughter] Oh dear, we were
always trying to help.
We went to Louisville and stayed several days with an aunt who
lived right in Louisville. Then we left there, and from there it
took us seven days . We had to change trains in St . Louis , then
change trains again in Los Angeles. One black man, a porter, was
talking to another one and said, "There's a huge family on here,
so many that one child got lost the whole morning, and no one
missed her." I got locked in the toilet. [laughter] I don't
think it was all morning. I think it was fifteen minutes, because
I would have kicked hell out of the thing! [laughter] I was
kicking and screaming at the top of my lungs. Finally I got out.
But that's how big this family impressed even this black man.
The Move to Southern California
MWB: We came straight to San Diego, to my brother Joe, who had preceded
us and had a job here in the hardware store. He had rented us a
home, which was temporary. Then Mother bought a home that was very
close to the Catholic church which is now the cathedral in San Diego,
We all went to Catholic schools. There was a boys' and a girls'
school. I mean the three youngest ones. The older ones were in
Baum: It sounds like your family had become quite Catholic. Yet you said
your mother had converted, is that right?
MWB: Yes, but converts are usually the strongest of all Catholics.
Baum: Oh, yes. What had your family been before they converted?
MWB: They were Baptists.
MWB : Yes .
Baum: That's an unusual kind of thing.
MWB: My father, of course, was Presbyterian. He was very quiet but very
firm about it. But in those days, you promised to bring the children
up Catholics. My three sisters went to a French convent called
Nazareth, which is halfway between Louisville and Glasgow. They
had to go on a train. Then my oldest sister, Elizabeth, was the one
who went to New York to a dramatic school and was going to be on the
stage. She was the one who had real ability, but she was very
Baum: Did she go to New York before the family left Glasgow?
MWB: Yes. She was there for nearly two years. Before the next winter,
she visited us in the summer in San Diego. We were still in San
Diego. She said to my mother, "I'm not going back to New York
until I can get a fur coat, even if I have to sleep with a man to
do it." Mother was so horrified that she nearly died. [laughter]
She did it purposely to tease my mother.
She had the greatest influence of all my sisters on us. She
never lost her temper and she always taught us the right thing.
When she came back, she taught us as much as she had learned, as
she could teach us, both dramatics and manners and the way of life.
How to sit; how to stand; how to greet people. She stayed on in
San Diego and they came to her house for lessons. I don't know.
You'd call it — it wasn't physical education — deportment and physical
education. There's a word. But it was really teaching people good
manners or poise. My sister Susie May was a fine pianist. That
happened when we were still in San Diego. We children used to help
with the classes — the little children who couldn't understand what
she was teaching them. So all of us worked.
Baum: Susie May started teaching piano at a very young age, then.
Probably eighteen or twenty?
MWB: No, she wasn't teaching. She was playing background music. Then
my sister gave recitals and she played. The two of them worked
this out together.
Baum: Susie May and Elizabeth.
MWB: Yes. See, by this time, the money was getting low. My father was
a very good tourist. He bought an orange grove and couldn't get
possession of it. In fact, he lost money on that. Then he got
interested in a gold mine. About that time, he began to think that
the climate wasn't agreeing with us, so we moved from San Diego to
Descanso because we knew Dr. Meyers, who had a big ranch there.
We'd met him through the mine. He was also interested in the mine.
He told Mother that we children would never grow strong unless we
went up in the mountains because there was so much fog, and the
dampness. It happened to be a particularly foggy summer and winter,
We moved, first to Descanso, which was a remarkable improvement.
My brother Johnson was rather delicate, and Cora and Elizabeth. I
was strong always. Mother said, "We're going to live in the
mountains at all costs." She and my father took a horse and buggy
from Dr. Meyers and started driving. They drove up from Descanso
to Cuyamaca, from Cuyamaca clear down to Julian, from Julian to
Running a Guest Ranch at Witch Creek
MWB: That was the one we called an inn. Today it would have been called
a guest ranch, a dude ranch. It was run by some charming English
people, who had bought it from Mexicans, who had built it originally
when the stagecoach that used to come from the East used to come
through there. One branch came to San Diego, and the other one
went to Los Angeles. The original stagecoach went to Los Angeles.
There was another one that brought people to San Diego. The minute
the railroad went through, many of the stagecoaches quit. San Diego
began getting mail by train. These English people had built on to
the inn. It was adobe, one storey. They built a second storey of
wood, with a wide porch. It was covered with beautiful grape vines
and wisteria. Then there was a great fig tree and quite an orchard.
We had a garden and two or three milk cows, and horses for everybody
to ride. These people were guests there and asked if they could
stay on. My father said, "Well, why not?" They had a Chinese cook,
I think it was. He said, "Mr. Wood, have you ever run a hotel?"
He said, "All my married life, but it'll be the first time I was
ever paid for it." [laughter] And that was true.
Baum: The cook said that?
MWB: No, no. My father said it.
Baum: But who asked?
MWB: One of the guests at the hotel.
Baum: I see.
MWB: They became great friends and they stayed right on. We moved right
Baum: A change in proprietorship.
MWB: George Sawday's brother, Kesson, had come over in a four-horse
wagon from Witch Creek to Descanso to get all of our belongings.
Part of them were there and part of them were in San Diego. We
had ridden horses, buggies and things which Dr. Meyers had allowed
us to take. George Sawday came down. Now, everybody knew George
Sawday. He was the oldest of the brothers of the Sawday family.
He came to greet us, everyone. He turned to me and he said, "Young
lady, what are you going to be when you grow up?" I said, "I am a
cowboy." He said, "Well, that's fine. I need help. Would you
like to come up and work for me?" I said, "Where do you live?"
and he said, "A half a mile up the road." I said, "All right,
what time do you want me to come?" He said, "Be there at eight
o'clock." I said, "I'll be there." I worked for him from that
time until he died. I was his little girl Friday. [laughter]
All the years, we stayed great friends, over a long period of time.
That was an interesting English family.
Baum: What was the year that your family moved up to Witch Creek?
MWB: We moved to Witch Creek in October, 1902.
Baum: Do you remember when George Sawday died? That wasn't so long ago,
MWB: Oh, yes. I'm trying to think. It was about '51 or '52. I had
moved and done everything else, but I was still his girl Friday.
Baum: That was about fifty years of friendship.
MWB: And I am just as strong a friend of his daughter, Pat Gumming.
Through all those years. I'm her mama-san now. Her mother's
gone and she's had a lot of sickness and death in the family.
Baum: How did your guest ranch run? Can you give me some details of what
kind of guests you had and how they got word of you?
MWB: We never advertised. It was always by word of mouth, and it was
really the only place to stop. There was a little hotel in Ramona.
Now, later on, a very good cook who'd been a cook in our family
took that Ramona Hotel and made something of it. But at that time,
there wasn't anything. There was a hotel in Julian, run by some
remarkable black people.
Baum: Is that right?
Baum: I didn't realize there were any black people around.
MWB: Yes, there were. It was a relic of the days when they had gold
mining up there. George Sawday was the first white child born
there, in 1875, in Julian. Then his family moved down to Witch
Creek. At Witch Creek, there was a store and a post office. The
store just had the essentials of life. It did have some candy,
[laughter] That was it. We got our supplies from San Diego.
All of us worked. I was guide from the time I was ten years
old. Nearly everybody, especially the young people, wanted to
ride horseback. We had a wonderful table, always with a great
deal of southern food. Mother was a famous cook. She had never
done too much cooking, but she'd supervised enough. The Chinese
didn't work out with us, but the Japanese did. We had Japanese
cooks. Sometimes a woman cooked. The Japanese wanted to learn.
One of our jobs, as children, was to have to give one night a
week, or an hour's time, to this one Japanese we had for five
years, to teach him.
Baum: Teach him what? English?
MWB: Teach him English and teach him how to write. He knew enough from
Mother to show him how to do things, but he really learned his
English. Strangely enough, he got a bride. He left us and went
to some friends in San Diego. Then he went to Seattle to get a
picture bride. He went into a shop there and became a very well-
known merchant. My sister Mickle lived in Seattle. She knew him
in Seattle. He had done so well, with his picture bride and the
Baum: I didn't realize there was a group of Japanese around, available
MWB: Oh, yes, there were in San Diego more and more. In the early days,
there were Chinese. Then the Japanese people began coming in, and
the Japanese were far more ambitious to learn than the Chinese.
For the Chinese, it was lonesome. The Japanese would ride, do
things with us . They were keen to learn American ways , much more
than the Chinese.
Baum: Your mother did the cooking and supervised the housekeeping?
MWB: No, she supervised the cooking and we did the housekeeping.
Baum: The children did.
MWB: By that time, there were always some of us who were old enough —
coming and going. We had two Indian girls, nearly always, and then
an Indian man to work in the stables.
Baum: There's a reservation up near there, isn't there?
MWB: Up in the Volcan Mountains. A year or two after that, I think it
was, they moved the Indians from Warner's Hot Springs down to Pala.
I can still see my mother watching the procession go by and crying.
We asked her why, and she said she was so sorry for the Indians.
She'd done everything she could to keep from having it done. Those
Indians put on, I think, the first sit-down strike that was ever
done. They refused to do one thing. Now, they never resisted the
soldiers. They went in there with soldiers and wagons. The Indians
had to pick the squaws up and put them in the wagons . They made the
men pick up their gear, which you know, because they were warriors,
was very little, and the babies, and put them in the wagons. Then
they drove down from there to Pala. The men followed behind with
the horses and the cattle. The Indian men knew they had to do it.
But the squaws, you see, it was their hallowed ground for many,
many centuries. It was really like a spa to the Indians. All over
the country, they would have people who'd come. Of course, at fiesta
time, they had an enormous amount. They would bring their sick
people there and put them in the water.
Baum: The water is hot spring water, you mean.
MWB: Yes. They had run it so that they could get the water temperature
that they could lie in. They'd lie there all night sometimes, with
their head on a rock. Sometimes when it was bitter cold, they did
it to keep warm.
Baum: I wondered about how many guests you could accommodate at Witch
MWB: A great many people came, husband and wife and children. We had
about a dozen people. In the summertime, we had two or three tents.
Then we finally built a cottage that had four bedrooms, baths, and
a hall. In later years, we accommodated more. In the wintertime,
there were comparatively few and everybody had to live in this
house. We used to sleep on the upstairs porch. Everybody thought
that was great fun. Then go into their parents' room to dress, the
youngsters. It got so they'd send them up there, sometimes with
nurses, sometimes without. They were old enough. My brother would
take over the boys and teach them to ride. I'd take over the girls.
I'd always rather work with the horses than work inside. We all
worked in the garden.
We were unusually well-disciplined people because my father
wouldn't stand any nonsense. Back in Kentucky, there was a lovely
table, a lovely big dining room and a table for twelve. My father
sat at the head and Mother at the bottom of the table. If you got
the least bit out of line, you would very quietly go to your room.
And you went to your room and took your supper to the room, if you
got out of line. I don't ever remember being spanked. I think I
was maybe, with a slipper. My older sisters tell about being
spanked with a little switch. But we worked together; there was
But we worked hard. We were changing help. In the wintertime,
we didn't keep the Indian girls. Of course, some of them were in
school. We'd get them from Mesa Grande or the Volcan Mountains.
They'd stay until fiesta time. St. John's Day was the fiesta at
Santa Ysabel. It was our busiest time. Then Papa would come with
a saddle horse and take his daughter off to the fiesta. Regardless
of how much we needed them, they all went to the fiesta, but we
We did things with people. There were always friends of friends,
or our own friends. We had lived in San Diego for two years — I
guess it was a year and a half when the three youngest went to
Descanso. But my older sisters were there, on and off, for three
or four years. My sister Susie May joined a very exclusive club
called the Decem Club. She was very, very pretty. She had spun
gold hair and green eyes and just a peaches-and-cream complexion.
She was gay and played the piano well and sang. They all sang,
including my brother who had a beautiful voice, and my sister Cora.
I was the only one who didn't have any voice. I could talk, but I
couldn't sing. [laughter] I knew it. I was told so very young in
life. "Don't spoil that singing for other people." But we were
MWB : We were peculiarly well-disciplined because we knew if we got out
of line, my father would say very quietly, "I will see you in the
back room," which was a little office off their, bedroom, "at seven
o'clock." All day long, you wondered what in the world he'd
caught you at. You'd committed maybe a lot of crimes, but you
wondered what you'd been caught at. That was one of the most
horrifying experiences. He never touched you. We just sat there
and quietly talked. My greatest punishment was when he let them
take my horse away from me, or my brother would make us walk.
That was a disgrace, if you had to walk, up to the post office
even. It was only a quarter of a mile. You'd run for a mile around
the pasture to catch your horse to ride it the quarter of a mile.
It was status, you know. We were pretty careful what we did.
Baum: I have the feeling your mother made some of the major decisions,
like whether to come to California and whether to move to Witch
Creek or not.
MWB: Yes. She was a far more liberal person in every way. My father
was very conservative. He would have stayed on. It wasn't his
idea. She made the decisions and she made the decisions at all
costs. Rather than his going into business in San Diego, which
he would have had to have done — maybe into banking, into an
inferior position for his age or something like that. Mother saw
this was a place to gain health first and then a living.
My father died in 1910. He was the first to die. We stayed on
there until 1913. We closed it for a few months after his death;
I guess it was four months. Then we went back and kept it open
until the fall of 1913. By that time, Mickle had married. She
had married way back in 1906, went to Seattle to live. Susie May
married in 1908, and my brother had been married — [carnival passes
by at this point]
Baum: Which brother is this?
MWB: This is Joe.
Baum: Who was now your oldest brother.
MWB: Yes, now the oldest — and he was bossy. But he only came for visits.
He never lived at Witch Creek because he was married and living in
Baum: Oh, he was in Los Angeles I He was the one who brought you to San
MWB: San Diego first. Then he moved to Los Angeles.
Baum: In the hardware business. Can you say something about your guests?
What kind of people were they?
MWB: They were the cream of San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco,
because the people we knew told somebody else.
The first morning after we were in San Diego, my father went
down to a bank, where he had a letter of introduction, with his
money — everything completely drawn out of Kentucky — and talked to
Mr. D.F. Garrettson, who was president of the bank. That after
noon, about tea time, Mrs. Garrettson, his wife, and his daughter,
who was Susie May's age, came to call. We were looking for a
bigger home. They spoke about the Bancroft house at that time
being for sale or rent. So the next day, Griff Bancroft came with
a kind of stanhope — two horses, one seat forward and one back —
Baum: A what? Stanhope?
MWB: Stanhope. It was a very high, stylish carriage. I think it
belonged to his mother. It wasn't the next day — maybe a week or
something. He had met Susie May; he had an eye for good-looking
gals. Susie May, my mother, and myself went to see the house.
Well, it was beyond us; it was too big and too expensive. Mother
still was a little undecided. She wanted a house right down near
the church, so we did buy property there and then sold it when we
went to the mountains, a year or two afterwards.
There were people like the Klauber family, one of the very
prominent families. A huge family. I told you Abraham Klauber
and his wife came to stay a month at Witch Creek with their
children. They took turns with the Wangenhiems. Then we traded
children with some families in San Diego. My brother stayed with
the family of Cosgroves, and their daughter came and stayed with
us. Cora stayed with another family. In the wintertime, there
were so few people, and if something was wrong with the sister or
daughter, we'd trade around that way.
Then in the wintertime — I guess it was after my father died — we
gave plays. Elizabeth directed them. Bernice Cosgrove had just
returned from Europe. She was the one who was staying with us.
She played and was almost like a professional piano player. She,
Cora, and myself — the four of us — took a play and then worked it
out to make it very simple. We played in the Julian Town Hall,
the Ramona Town Hall, and the Lakeside Town Hall. We would go first
and tack up signs all the way about the play on fence posts, make
all the arrangements, and then we'd go. I remember the first few
times George Sawday used to go with us. Everyone would come in
before dark to eat their dinner in the hall. It was wintertime,
MWB: you see, and there was a fire. Then all of a sudden, George would
say, "Everybody out!" And he'd hit his hand like he was driving
cattle. "Whup! Get out of here I" They all came out and paid the
dollar and went back in. [laughter] George just adored going to
these plays. Then afterward, we'd dance all night. It was a big
party, you see.
Baum: That must have been a big affair for the whole town.
MWB: Oh, it was. In quite a few of them, we played six parts — the four
of us. They would say, "Where are the other people?" They had no
idea that we were making up. Cora was a very snappy little black
boy — sassy. Then she was the beautiful blonde girl. She'd pull
her hair back, put on a wig. Elizabeth was the man in fancy men's
clothing and then she would play a girl. I took care of the curtain
and _I played a black boy also. It was called The Silver Slipper.
We'd move in and spend the night there with all our baggage. At
midnight, these black people who lived there would give us a big
supper for fifty cents. It was a big turkey dinner. You would
hope that some gentleman would ask you to go — some one of your
beaux. But everybody went to the dinner. You danced the first
dance and the supper dance, an after-supper dance, and then the
last dance. The rest of the time, you'd dance with other people.
This idea of just dancing with one person would have been improper.
We wouldn't have considered it. The men sometimes had flasks and
gathered outside, but that was taboo. [laughter]
Baum: Did you make any money off your little plays?
MWB: Oh, certainly we did! We wouldn't have done it otherwise. We
knew, almost to the figure. Of course, they'd bring the children
and put them under the benches and wrap them up. Everybody would
Baum: So this was a little supplement to your guests, who tapered off
in the winter .
MWB: Oh, way down, but we knew that. It was part that and part just the
training. It was Elizabeth's. We trained really hard. We had
costumes, old southern costumes. Cora was in As You Like It and
did a beautiful job in the San Diego High School. Then she did
another play. I'm trying to think who had those beautiful costumes,
but anyway, we had them. With a little help from here and there,
we would get the clothes to wear. These people had never seen
clothes like that. They were just fascinated and they really would
ask you where these other people were.
Baum: Did Elizabeth stay with you up at Witch Creek for several years?
MWB: On and off. She started giving recitals. That wasn't as hard on
her. That was always sponsored by people, the elect and elite of
Coronado. She usually stayed with someone. Mrs. Florence Dupee
was the grande dame of Coronado in those days. She used to come
to Witch Creek. Then Elizabeth went to Los Angeles and had a lot
of connections up there. After a while, she got tired out and
couldn't give recitals.
Baum: Were these recitals that Elizabeth gave musical recitals or dramatic
MWB: It was reading poems or short skits. Then we always had somebody
who played. Susie May did it as long as she could, until she had
children. Bernice Cosgrove, who was a fine pianist, never married,
and she was always available. Then another, Kate Sessions, who was
one of the finest gardeners — there's a story.
Baum: Oh, yes, I saw the biography of hers.
MWB: She came to Witch Creek and told us to ship lilacs. Now, all the
people for five miles around had great lilac bushes, the old-
fashioned eastern and English lilac.
Baum: Oh, those beautiful-smelling things.
MWB: She showed us how to ship it. We had to ship it by stagecoach, you
see. A little later on, the automobile came in and we shipped it
that way, by mashing and then using the newspapers in the box. Mrs.
Dupee heard about it, I think from Miss Sessions, and she said, "Oh,
if I had something new — " Miss Sessions said, "Well, the Wood girls
learned to ship lilacs, and I think I could get you the lilacs."
Well, she was thrilled. We sent two vast boxes down to her. The
stagecoach would take care of it, keep it in the shade, and all of
that. She had a man meet the train when it came in, in San Diego.
It became the fashionable thing to do with other people, so we
could sell just as many as we wanted.
Baum: You would use your own lilacs and those of neighbors?
MWB: We'd go around to neighbors. Some of them said, "If you'll just
train our lilac bushes," because my mother was really a profes
sional gardener. That was her love, gardening. "If you'll get
your mother, or if you know how, just train the bushes and cut
them properly." They'd give them to us sometimes. We told them
we were selling them and we would share them with them, and we did.
A dollar meant a lot, you know. Ten dollars, or twenty dollars, or
whatever it was. We did that every spring. Everybody knew then
that we really were in it and became interested in raising them.
MWB: The only thing we did was we went up into the Indian reservations
and bought baskets. We would buy burden baskets — big baskets that
they carried with a little hat, they called it, on the head, that
was also a basket. The net that the basket was in was milkweed.
They would shake their heads and say no. Then we would produce
some money. They were quite interested. I remember one Indian to
whom I kept saying, "But I want your hat 1 ." Then I finally hit like
that. [gestures] "Oh, my hat'." I produced a little more money
and she gave me the hat. We'd go clear over to Owonga, which is
beyond Warner's Hot Springs, about twenty miles beyond, in horse
and buggy, and we'd camp out there. That was really spring. We'd
be gone maybe for nearly a week. We ran out of money one time. I
was over at the people who made the finest baskets in this part of
the world, Coahuila. We showed them and tried to explain. They
wouldn't have anything to do with it.
Baura: They'd shake their heads.
MWB: Shake their heads. All of a sudden, after we had been arguing
over half an hour, because we had just what we wanted — we had
just run out of money — a good-looking Indian man stepped up and
said, "Go ahead and write it. I'll endorse it and it will be all
right." He was an Indian who had grown up there and then had
gone clear back east to one of the Indian schools. He knew
exactly, but he let us suffer for half an hour.
Baum: Who was doing that? When you say we, was it just you Wood girls?
MWB: Oh, yes, just us. We'd bring them home, wash them, clean them up,
and hang them to the best advantage of the basket, maybe with a
bowl with flowers in it, according to the size and all. People
would say, "Is there any chance we could buy that?" We would
reluctantly say, "We'd hate to part with it, but we will." Of
course, we put a lot of money in, in taking the time off to go
and buy them, but at that time, time didn't mean anything.
Baum: These were your guests who would also take a basket home as a
MWB: Oh, yes, everybody did. Some of the baskets had the pattern of a
rattlesnake. They had all sorts of patterns in them. Some of the
very small baskets had woven in quail tufts and some of them with
mountain quail tufts. Those baskets were just exquisite.
Baum: I'll bet some of your baskets wound up in the San Diego museum.
MWB: I had a lovely collection of them and lost them. They were stolen
by somebody who really knew baskets up at Helen Gildred's. I'd let
her keep them. They were insured, but they couldn't be replaced.
They were very well-insured. But it was somebody who knew, because
there were loads of things in the house that could have been taken —
gear, radios, and things that you'd think, if anybody wanted to
sell it. We're still hoping that someday they'll turn up in some
Baum: So your father died in 1910. Then you carried on the guest ranch
for about three more years, the family — your mother and the remain
MWB: There was no one but Johnson, Cora, and myself. During all this
time, at least one or two of us were in school. I went to the
Immaculate Heart Convent the year after my father died. You see,
I was out of school for three years; I had to be because I was very
strong and by this time I was running the show, almost. The ranch.
Then Johnson went to — we always called it "Cow College" — Davis.
Baum: Oh, he did?
MWB: Yes, he went there. After Mother's death, he had to come home.
Baum: So that was later. Immaculate Heart — was that the Los Angeles
school, or where?
MWB: Yes, it's in Hollywood.
Baum: Yes, I've been to their campus.
MWB: Franklyn and Western.
Baum: Yes. A lovely campus.
MWB: Beautiful. It was very new. I got a silver cup for tennis. We
had a tennis court at Witch Creek, finally. We kept modernizing
things all the time. But to go back to one of the guests, I'll
never forget the day he phoned. It was Ed Fletcher, who owned so
Baum: Oh, yes, I know who Ed Fletcher was. Senator, wasn't he?
MWB: Yes, state senator. He had William Griffith Henshaw with him and
two sons-in-law. Ed always stopped there because he felt sure of
the food and sure of everything, but he wanted to go over to Warner's
to spend the night. They came in, in a great rainfall. We had a
big fire in an adobe room. It was a beautiful room; Elizabeth was
MWB: the one who was the decorator. They were so excited. After lunch,
it was still raining, and one of them said, "Who plays the piano?"
Elizabeth played very well herself. He said, "Let's have a song or
two." Two hours later, he said to Ed Fletcher, "We are not going
any further tonight." Ed Fletcher reluctantly gave in. He didn't
like to, but he did. They spent the night there.
From that time on, the Henshaws always stayed there. They'd go
over to Warner's for the day and come back. He bought Warner's
ranch, if you remember, the whole thing. Then the lake; then he
built the dam, and improved it all. Finally that land was sold to,
I believe, Vista. Out of that grew a great friendship. My sister
Elizabeth broke her leg, along with her other problems, and she was
limping. He came back one time and asked Mother about it. He said,
"I think the thing to do is to take her to San Francisco." He had
a wife, who never came down there. He saw to it that Elizabeth had
the best treatment that was possible to try to cure this leg, which,
of course, was a terrible break which never did heal. She died a
couple of years after that. Today, two sons-in-law, Harry and Allen
Chickering, are very prominent in San Francisco. They're on your
board — I think at least one of the Chickerings — of The Bancroft
Baum: There's an Allen Chickering on the board. So that's the same
family. The Henshaw family.
MWB: Yes. Harry Chickering married a Henshaw. Allen was his brother,
and they traveled together.
Baum: Oh, is that right? What a small world.
MWB: Small world. I thought that was one person I wanted to see when I
was at the library. I haven't seen them for years. They are about
the age I am, I guess. Older, a little bit older, I'm sure, and
well in their eighties. People like that would never forget you,
because it was unusual and they came out of wilderness, you see.
Mother always sat at the head of the table as hostess after my
father died. They just couldn't believe there was .that much .
civilization that far away from civilization. It was an unusual
situation. Of course, there 'd always be three or four girls
buzzing around. It was an unusual combination. It was fun.
Baum: I have the feeling as you talked about your later life that some of
the people you met at Witch Creek, and the impression you made at
Witch Creek, the whole family, opened doors for you later on in
MWB: Oh, yes, very definitely. You take people like the movie people,
the De Milles. I was so young when she was there that she would
hardly have known me. When she was there the first time, I was
probably twelve or thirteen, or something like that. But then,
of course, my sister and brother and brother and sister-in-law
were connected with a lot of people in Los Angeles. The same way
with San Francisco. We never had an unpleasant experience. We
never had anyone try to tip us, except one very ignorant little
Margaret Wood Joins a Movie Company, 1913##
Baum: We were going to start with how come you got involved in the movies.
MWB : Okay .
Baum: You were at Witch Creek.
MWB: Yes, in 1913. We closed Witch Creek for good. My mother and
sister Cora went to Kentucky for six months. It was the first
time my mother, or any of us, had been back to Kentucky.
Baum: That was with your sister Cora.
MWB: Yes. Shortly before we went, three very prominent businessmen from
San Diego phoned and said they were coming up and they wanted to
talk to Mother and to me. They came up and said they were forming
a company. It was called Am-Mex, American-Mexican, and was going
to be in National City. They had rented an old warehouse and were
converting it into a studio. At that period of the movies, people
thought it was very easy. Just get a director and you go ahead
and become famous. They had some director in mind who they thought
would be wonderful. These men were rather venturesome and were
starting with western pictures. They wanted someone who could
ride, do stunts, and drive a stagecoach — everything that was real
western. Enid Markey was the lead and I was to be her second. We
had an older woman who took older parts. I was twenty years old
at the time. My mother thought it was wonderful because I could
live with the sister who was having her third baby.
Baum: Which sister was that?
Baum: Where? In San Diego?
MWB: In San Diego. They were living right in San Diego. I'd stay there
and help her and work in movies. They said sometimes you'd be work
ing very hard and other times you wouldn't be. But I'd have plenty
of time. It was all out-of-doors. We didn't work on Sunday. That's
the story that was told us.
Baum: The story for your mother. Well, I guess it was a real story.
MWB: The men didn't know what happened in the movies. I had seen half a
dozen movies in my life. Movies meant nothing in my life. We knew
about it and all of that. We used to go to the nickelodeon if we
came down to San Diego to visit, but that was a great excitement.
But I had had this theatrical training from my sister and had the
ability to do the stunts, so it was a very easy thing for me.
So I came down and lived with sister Mickle. I had to go out
by, I guess it was streetcar, to National City at that time and get
up very early in the morning. I'd have my breakfast and pack my
lunch and go. It was a very primitive studio. I was to make up
for this first part. It was a western. I had the western clothes.
We used our own clothes at that time. There was no wardrobe. You
just had to find something to wear that was halfway appropriate,
and mine were. I had boots and everything that went with western
clothing. I just could not get the mascara on my eyes. I was
crying. The door was open; we didn't have much privacy at all.
It was just sort of a little separation.
This famous old actor, whose name I cannot remember, said,
"What's the matter?" I said, "This make-up — I can't get it on."
I had never used mascara and at that time they were using very
heavy mascara. He said, "All right. You clean your face and I'll
make you up as you should be made for the part." So he did it,
very carefully, and then he said, "Now, take it off and you put it
on." So he sat there and every time I made a mistake, he made me
take the make-up off and start all over again. I was rehearsing,
as it were. He finally had taught me. Wonderful man!
Then there was one San Diego man who was an actor and had a
beautiful voice; Roy Stewart was his name. His niece's family
lives in Coronado today. I often talk about him with them. He is
dead. One of them has been national committeewoman of the Repub
lican party; a very famous person, she is.
We started out. It was all very simple to me because it was
mostly riding or out in the country, on a stagecoach holdup. Some
times I would be a passenger and sometimes a stagecoach driver
would be killed and I'd take the reins and get away from the
Indians who were chasing us. It was very exciting. Sometimes I'd
be dressed as a passenger, using my own clothes. I would borrow,
MWB : beg, or steal them from other people for the occasion, because you
had to have certain things. My sister had a lot of things and
friends, and I was always getting something from other people.
Sometimes you were a very demure little girl that was going to
teach school and would end up jumping up and driving the stagecoach
and getting away from the Indians. It was all very exciting! The
stagecoach would turn over. It was great fun.
This went on for about two months and I was thoroughly enjoying
it, and learning a great deal. The director was a well-known
director and Enid Markey had been in movies and on stage. They
were very kind. Also an older woman who was a real actress, and
an older man who had been in stagework for years. They were kind
of broken down; that's why they got them cheap. But they were
very good people.
One day we were eating lunch and I had stayed on my horse. We
were just having a snack, and one of these camera boys came up and
slapped my horse from behind. The horse jumped and skidded on the
pavement. I threw myself free from the horse. The horse went down
and came up. But I broke my ankle bone.
I was packed off to the Paradise Valley Hospital in National
City. I had a loaded gun on me. I guess they were blank shots.
I was very vocal that no one was going to touch me until they got
Dr. Oatman, who was the best surgeon in San Diego and a great
friend. In fact, he and his wife spent their honeymoon at Witch
Creek. So they phoned immediately. The doctor dropped everything
and came out to National City and said, "Margaret, I hear you've
gotten very belligerent. What's the matter with you?" And I
said, "I didn't want one of these people." They were Seventh Day
Adventists and I knew they knew nothing about surgery. So he
examined my foot. Of course, there were no x-rays at that time.
He said the ankle bone was broken and I'd have to be on crutches
and stay there for twenty-four hours. One of my family came and I
went back to my sister's. He said it would possibly be three or
four months before I could go back to work. So that was a great
disappointment. I knew enough to start reading a great deal and
studying everything I could lay my hands on at this time, also
helping my sister. I went out to visit the Fred Scripps at Braemar.
They were a big family. I stayed there for a month.
Baum: At Braemar.
MWB: It's near Pacific Beach. F.T. was the younger brother of D.W.
Scripps. I was taken care of. I had a lot of beaux. There were
six Jessup boys; two of them, at different times, were beaux of
mine and great riding companions. I taught them how to ride and
they taught me how to swim — better swimming.
MWB: Time passed and I went back to Witch Creek to just open it up for
ourselves when my mother and my sister Cora came back from Kentucky.
Elizabeth, by this time, had come back from Seattle with a very bad
cough which turned into quick consumption and she died the next
June. So I never went back to the movies at that time.
Baum: Do you remember who these gentlemen were, the promoters of this
MWB: Last night I tried my best. One of them I remember, but it will
come back to me. They were well-known San Diego people.
Baum: Yes. I think your San Diego people would want to know them.
MWB: Yes, they would. The whole thing was a failure and they closed it.
By that time, I was badly bitten by the idea of being a movie
actress. I told my mother what I wanted to do. One of our older
friends — I'm not sure who it was, but I'll think of that, too — lent
me five hundred dollars to go to dramatic school. All my sisters
thought that I should have real dramatic training. So I went up
and lived with my brother and his wife, Joe and Alice Wood, and
went to the school in Los Angeles. I was about halfway through it
when Frances Marion, who was a famous scenario writer and was a
great friend of the family — she was a great friend of Marion Davies
and visited very often at the Hearst Castle — she phoned one day and
said there was a chance. Bosworth Studios were opening at that
time and they were going to do Jack London stories and a number of
different types of stories. They thought I would fit in. They were
looking for new faces always and people they thought had a chance
to make good in the movies. I immediately went out and applied,
and got the job.
Baum: I know we've covered your movie career a little bit. I wondered,
before we drop this subject, your sister was in dramatics — both
your sisters — Susie May, I guess, was in recital work.
MWB: That was always piano.
Baum: As I recall, being on the stage was looked down upon then.
MWB: Oh, yes.
Baum: So I wonder if there was any hassle with your family before Elizabeth
went into dramatics.
MWB: No, because Mother, for one thing, trusted us and thought we were
able to take care of ourselves. Elizabeth had so much talent that,
of course, she went directly from Kentucky to New York.
MWB: When my mother went back to Kentucky this time, people said,
"Don't you know those movie people have terrible reputations?"
When Mother came back, she began to look into it and began to
worry. She found out there were some terrible reputations;
there were also some very good reputations. Mary Pickford was
the idol of the country at that time and the Gish girls. Those
girls had their mothers with them and made a point of being very
correct. They weren't the glamorous girls who sat up and drank
champagne with the old men and that type of thing — the midnight
suppers that you've read about.
So my mother finally said she thought it was all right if I
lived with this brother and his wife. My sister-in-law did
designing for clothes at one time and did my clothes. I was
always well-dressed despite the fact that I had to spend the
money that I made most of the time in having my dental work
redone, because that was the most important thing. I had some
gold in my mouth. Anytime I had any money, that's where my
money went. [laughter] Even with someone making your clothes,
you had to have really good clothes. As time went on, they
developed these big wardrobes. Even when I first came to Los
Angeles, lots of times I'd be wearing my own clothes. Big ward
robes came in. The stars, of course, would have things done.
The people who were supporting them, half the time had to shift
for themselves. My sister-in-law could always whip up something
for me. That was the way I got by. Then, with the friendships
I had in Los Angeles — connections — I managed to meet the right
people at the right time. That's half the way, to get the door
unlocked. I think that's all about the movies.
X GRIPPING BANCROFT AND HIS FAMILY
Bird Egg Collecting
Baum: Now, we have been talking about your days at Walnut Creek. Then,
after Mr. Bancroft died, I believe you returned to San Diego. But
I'd like to know before that how it happened that you and Griff got
so interested in bird egg collecting, or the study of birds.
MWB: We let the governess go the day we were married. She was at the
wedding and took care of the children, packed them in the car, and
we were on our way to San Francisco. In talking and playing with
the children, I realized how little they knew of the outdoors —
birds, flowers, anything. They just had been with these rather,
sometimes, stupid governesses — sometimes good. The last one they
had was good.
I thought we ought to really go in and get books and make a study
with them, of animals, wild' animals , flowers, trees. I said I'd
take over that side and Griff would take over the birds. He had
always been interested in birds. Never in collecting, just in the
notes and watching them, the observation of birds. His first cousin,
Frank Bancroft, was a famous scientist. He said, "Griff, you can't
teach those children anything without collecting. You ought to
collect some skins and take them into the natural history museum
we started in Berkeley. Study the birds and show them the study
skins," which he did, because we had lots of time.
When spring came, the spring right after his father died, Frank
said, "I'm going to take you out and show you." He knew and had
studied birds. It was right around Walnut Creek and up to Mount
Diablo country. It was hard going. A lot of it you had to walk,
but we were all strong and walked. We learned how to collect birds'
eggs, and the wrapping and packing of them, and also learned the
seriousness of the study of it. One of the things was that you had
MWB: to be so very quiet and use both eyes and ears. It took great
patience to find any bird's nest except where birds nested in a
big colony. That's the water birds. The ordinary birds that were
around Walnut Creek were different types of sparrows and different
types of warblers . There was a great variety there within a very
Griff ing, Jr. took to it. Howe didn't. Howe was a great reader
and didn't have the patience or the interest. Griff ing, Jr. and Sr.
would go off with Frank, who loved to do it. They'd have picnics
and we'd all go.
By the time we left there, we had quite a box of bird eggs, care
fully blown. In those days, they put a hole in each end. Then we
learned to use a dentist's drill and make one little hole, then
bring the fine glass tube down to a very fine point and blow in,
and that would blow out the matter. Then we'd wash them out and
put them on blotting paper until they were dry, then put a sealing
coat over the hole to keep out the moths, and then put them into
It was delicate work. You'd learn on very cheap eggs, like
linnets' or blackbirds'. Sometimes you'd break one egg and then
work on the other eggs to learn. It was like anything else. It
was very delicate work down to the point where you could wrap them
and pack them. We had to very carefully wrap and pack these eggs.
We brought a big box down to San Diego. Immediately, Griff got
in touch with people. One of the first was A.M. Ingersoll.
Ingersoll had a big candy and ice cream parlor, and he had a
collection. He was a very sweet, interesting man. He took us out.
He loved to teach. He was our first teacher in San Diego. Then
there was John Burnham, who was the brother of the congressman —
very well-known. People are always interested in helping you learn
anything like that when they. know you're seriously interested.
When we bought a house in San Diego, between Laurel and Maple,
there was a very well-sealed room where the woman who sold us the
house had stored her furniture when she would rent the house and
go off to Germany. She'd be gone a year or two. So we turned that
into our egg room and began having beautiful eucalyptus cabinets
built. They were a work of art. They had great big drawers. They
were three by four feet long and wide. They were different sizes,
starting from very fine, very small at the top, with the humming
bird nests and eggs. For very small birds, you collected the nests
as well as the eggs.
MWB: Griff ing, Jr. became a great climber. He'd climb any tree and he'd
go over any cliff. He'd say, "It's only the first twenty-five feet."
Griff, Sr. couldn't stand heights. Griff ing, Jr. would go over on a
rope ladder. If you'd fall, you'd fall maybe a hundred and fifty,
two hundred feet. He'd go down the rope ladder. I had no feeling
of heights, so I'd lie on my stomach and look over, directing
Griff ing because he couldn't see where he was going, say to collect
hawk eggs. I directed and Griff would be holding my feet well back,
braced, and he kept saying, "Look out. Be careful. Good cooks are
scarce. Don't fall over with Griff ing." [laughter] He was afraid
Griff ing would pull me over. The ladder was staked with a big steel
We spent every spring collecting from that time on. That was in
1919 up until — I guess the last trip we took was in the spring before
the Second World War was declared.
Baum: Twenty years of egg collecting.
Baum: Did the boys continue interested, or did Griff ing, Jr.?
MWB: Griff ing did. Griff ing, of course, had college and everything else.
He quit-. When he came home in the summertime, it was too late.
Howe didn't continue at all. He lost all interest. He could go
out and pick up eggs in colonies and a few things like that, just
to be going. His interest was in tennis, you see.
Howe had a ranking thirty-seven in the United States in tennis.
We traveled for four years all summer long, following the tennis
tournaments because Howe was so good.
Baum: What years were those?
MWB: I guess he started his tennis about 1921 and it went up through
1927. He was good. First he won the boys' state tournament.
That was at the Claremont. We stayed at the Claremont a couple of
months. He was in a special school, getting ready to go to Stanford.
We'd just start out. The first time, we did California. The next
time, we drove clear to Chicago. We played fourteen tournaments in
sixteen weeks. We had Johnny Doeg with us as our guest. He and
Howe played doubles.
MWB: They won doubles straight through from California. We went to Utah,
played at Salt Lake City, and then we went to South Dakota — I can't
remember the city; won there. Then we went to some place in Illinois,
a big boys' tournament. The school there was a military school.
Then to Chicago, and they won the doubles in Chicago. That was the
At that time, we met Bill Tilden. Bill Johnson was a California
man and was Howe's doubles partner. They were great bridge players.
By this time, Griff and I were playing a great deal of serious
bridge — money bridge. Bill would come by always after you had won
something. He'd say, "Get the table ready" — at the club wherever
we were playing — "and I'll get my shower and be out in fifteen
minutes." And he would. He'd go on playing and people would go
swarming round and round this table just to see him. They wouldn't
try to talk to him. He was such an exhibitionist, you know.
We had a private car with sixty-four tennis players.
Railroad car, you're talking about.
MWB: Yes. That was from New York down to Newport. We went to Boston.
Just played this very top tennis until we got to Forest Hills.
Baum: As I get the picture, there was a group of persons who would travel
MWB: At that time, because it was all by train.
Baum: — about sixteen weeks in the summer with tennis as the major interest
and bridge as the second interest. Is that right?
MWB: Yes, exactly. I played doubles.
Baum: Oh, you did?
MWB: Yes. But I wasn't good. I played against Bill Tilden once. He
was calling it out. He was a great person in many, many ways and
was always helping in tournaments. I said, "If I have to play on
that court one, I'm going to default." He was playing with a very
young girl, a cute little thing, and I was playing with Johnny Doeg.
He called out, "Court number one," and I was right there. He saw
me. I got up and started to leave.
[Interview 5: July 4, 1977 ]##
MWB: I started out from where I was. He saw me and said, "Oh, excuse me."
He was talking, of course, to the great crowd that was all around.
"I mean court number eleven." [laughter] So that's where we went
to play. I never was going to be put on court number one. It
wasn't that important. But he was, when he played, unless he asked
for another court. It was always court number one. He was an actor
if you ever saw one. A very poor actor on the stage. He tried it
two or three times.
Baum: I'm sure everyone will be interested in anything you have to say
about Bill Tilden. He's quite a famous historical figure.
MWB: We saw the very best of Bill Tilden and that went on for many years.
He was a good bridge player, far better than average, and he played
with very big people.
My husband wrote a book on bridge and had a big fight with one
of the big players who wrote the system, Culbertson. Griff wrote
another one, more or less reversing the system. It's too technical
to discuss. But at the same time, he was recognized and his book
was recognized. Before he sat down to play, when we were playing
the system, we'd have to say, "We're playing the Bancroft System."
It was published. It had to be. You can't play a system; other
wise, it would be a secret system. We had to explain to people.
We always had a pamphlet in our pocket.
Baum: I don't understand enough about bridge to understand what you're
telling me, but are you saying that Griff published a book about
bridge? About what year was that? Before these tournaments took
MWB: No, it was after the tournaments, after we were playing with Bill
Tilden. It was 1928. I remember it was the year that Griffing and
I went abroad. Griffing, Jr. and I went abroad, and we had a very
fine young chap who was Russian, who helped Griff, Sr. do this work.
He was from Spain, a marvelous bridge player. They developed this
system. It didn't continue, but for years Griff played it. There
are certain rules of bridge. You can't develop a system and not
have it published. It has to be published and for sale. He fought
Baum: Culbertson. Now I can't remember his first name.
MWB: The Culbertson System it was called.
Baum: What was the name of Griff's book? The Bancroft System?
MWB: Yes. The Bancroft System.
Baum: Do you think it's still available? Can it be bought?
MWB: No, it's out of print now. I have some copies of it.
Baum: I think we ought to have a copy of it in this collection of papers,
if you already have a copy in The Bancroft Library.
MWB: No, they wouldn't have. Griff played brilliant bridge and brilliant
poker. He always attributed it to the fact that he was deaf and he
had to watch people's faces more carefully and he wasn't distracted
by the outside noises. He was a constant winner, both in bridge and
in poker. He used to keep a record, playing at the Cuyamaca Club in
San Diego — it's now a big men's club — a year at a time. At the end
of the year, he would tell the first ten what they had won or lost.
Baum: He kept a record of everyone's winnings and earnings?
MWB: Of this little group. There was a table of four; there were really
about eight men and no one ever asked to play. You were asked to
play at that table. The same way with poker. Then he went out and
played poker a lot at night.
Baum: So how was his record in terms of winning and losing?
MWB: He always won. [laughter]
Baum: He always came out ahead, is that right?
MWB: Maybe there might be some one, one year — ahead, but in general.
Then he got to the point where he d idn ' t have the concentration
and wasn't well, so he quit playing. He didn't enjoy doing it
unless he had that brilliance and concentration.
You see, his brother, Phil Bancroft, was a marvelous poker
player. You'd never think that stodgy old guy would be, but he
Baum: He didn't tell me that. [laughter]
MWB: He didn't tell you — I'll bet he didn't. He never cashed a check
from the time he went to war, and left from Florida and went into
France. He was a lieutenant but was quickly put into a judiciary
position of handling the great quarrels and arrests and everything
over American boys. He spoke good French, so he ended up as a judge,
Baum: Now, what are you telling me about Phil and the poker playing?
MWB: Phil never cashed a check. He simply lived on the money that he
made all the time he was abroad.
Baum: Is that right? [laughter]
MWB: Twice they thought that Phil was a professional and had it looked
into because the men who played poker with him complained to the
captain. He played always, of course, with officers. But on ship
board, when he came back, they definitely checked on him to see if
he was all right because he was such a steady winner. He had that
same, though he was not deaf, concentration that Griff had.
Baum: Oh, I believe that.
MWB: Marvelous concentration.
Baum: Tell me how your life went in these years 1921 to 1927 that we were
talking about. You spent the summer following the tennis tourna
Baum: With Howe.
MWB: Yes. And in the spring, especially when the boys got older and were
going to school and college, we would start collecting in February
and collect through to July.
So the spring was bird egg collecting. Did you do that just around
here, or did you travel to do that?
MWB: No. We traveled all over California and Arizona, but our specialty
was Baja California. The birds, most of the birds, had been
identified, but the eggs had never been collected because in those
days the roads were so bad. There was never anyone who had the time
and the knowledge to collect birds' eggs. It was almost an open
field for us. We found a great many eggs that had never been
collected before. We knew what they should be like.
Sometimes they made subspecies and named them for Griff. In the
last few years, they have refused the subspecies and brought it down
to less species, the different species of birds. For example, we
found a thrasher that was new to science, and they finally decided
it wasn't enough different, though it was somewhat different. It
was the same way with the skins.
MWB: We put J. Elton Green through college, working on our egg collection.
He would go to summer school and take off the whole spring. It was
arranged. Griff got him into college because he was short of credit.
He was a Berkeley boy and Dr. Grinnell recommended him to us because,
with Griff's deafness, I always liked to have someone in the house.
He lived with us, on and off, for ten years. He was just like a
third son. Dr. Grinnell was the head of the Ornithology Department
at the University of California, Berkeley. He had been in Baja
California, but he had never collected eggs. He was down there at
the Meling Ranch at different times. He was a great friend of ours.
Baum: Was the interest in birds the beginning of your interest in Baja
MWB: Yes. Griff was always interested because it was an almost unexplored
country. He went down there first to buy some horses when he had a
ranch at Spring Valley, you know, where Bancroft Road is. We kept
forging a little farther every time. It was such an open field to
get rare birds.
I remember when we were on the boat out of Santa Rozalia. We
went to the island, Isla Raza, and found the waterbird, the Elegant
Tern. We found where this bird nested. Everyone knew this water-
bird very, very well, but they had never found where it was nesting.
It was on this little desert island. They flew in and laid one egg —
no nest — the whole colony of them. Walking around, outside of them,
would be the gulls. The Mexicans would rush in and grab an egg or
a baby. It was a pitiful sight to see. We'd walk through them and
get out as fast as we could get out so there wouldn't be so much
The Mexicans discovered it shortly after that and would go in
and take every single egg on the island of maybe a thousand, two
thousand birds. They would take those eggs and sell them in
Guaymas, Mexico and they were as good as, if not better than,
chicken eggs. Griff and some other men, ornithologists, finally
got the Mexican government to declare it out of bounds and stop
the Mexican people from doing it. They didn't know.
Baum: It would be the end of that species, wouldn't it?
MWB: Oh, yes, it would. Now they're very well-protected. It was due to
Griff and, I think, Lou Walker was the other man. He was down in
that country a great deal after we were there.
Baum: Did Griff ing, Jr. continue interested in the birds during this
period? Did he go with you in the springtime?
MWB: No, because he was, first, in college and then immediately went to
work in the newspaper business. He graduated in 1930, and that was
the bad period.
Baum: He started right at the Depression.
MWB: He went to Mexico with a man who was going to go into export-import
business and did that for a year and lived in Mexico, writing and
speaking Spanish extremely well. Then that blew up because of the
Depression. For about two or three years, I ran a home for the
unemployed, it seems. There was Griff ing without a job and Tony
[J. Elton Green] without a job and Howe without a job. Then they'd
get jobs. I remember at that time they were changing the gas system
over to natural gas. They went down and learned how to do this and
became plumbers, you might say. That was Howe and Tony. By that
time, Griffing, Jr. had a job on the San Diego Sun. The boys were
working here and there at different places. Griffing went from the
San Diego Sun to Los Angeles to the Hearst papers.
Baum: This was after 1930. Was that when they graduated?
MWB: No. Howe graduated in his third year in order to get married, but
he didn't marry. He was to marry Helen Lewis, and he didn't. It
would never have worked.
Baum: What year was that?
MWB: 1930. He had finished his second year at Stanford. They gradually
got jobs. He went into the newspaper business, too. The editor of
the Sun, Hal Bartlett, was a great friend of ours. In each case,
when the boys really needed work, he put them on as police reporters-
the bottom of the list. Griffing went straight up, but Howe went
into other things. Then they both drifted east, Griffing still with
the Hearst papers. From that time on, he lived in Washington, and
he went from the Hearst papers to Marshall Field — I've forgotten the
name of the paper, but it was in Chicago.
Baum: Marshall Field — oh, the Chicago Sun.
MWB: Yes. He was a political writer for that. He left that to go as
special correspondent to the war. He went over on the first ship
that took correspondents. He was in the war three and a half years,
I guess it was. He came back from the war and went right back to
Baum: The Chicago Sun?
MWB: Yes. And it folded.
Baum: I remember that.
MWB: Then he was picked up by CBS, first for radio, then television.
He was the one who created — it was interviewing congressmen,
senators, all the big people. It has a name and it'll come to me.
Baum: Yes, it should come to me, too.
MWB: That was his baby. Then he gave eight o'clock news. When I would
be visiting Washington, they'd say, "Oh, I always have breakfast
with your son." 8:00 a.m. news. "Capitol Cloakroom" was the name
of the program. I don't know whether it's still running or not.
It was for a long time, on radio. Then it finally went on to tele
vision and he was on that for years. Then he did all sorts of work
Baum: And he lived in Washington?
MWB: Yes, he lived all those years in Washington. After the war, he was
divorced and then he married Jane Eads. She wrote "Washington Letter"
for the Washington Post and was with them for twenty-five years.
Jane Eads. She always wrote under that name. They both retired
and went to Florida to live. They had lived there.
Baum: What was the first wife's name?
MWB: Mary Jackson. Today she's in "The Waltons." She's the sister.
The two sisters, you know, who sell the recipe their father made.
She's still with "The Waltons" and has been with them five years.
She was always an actress. She's been on the stage in a number of
things, and movies.
Baum: Where did he meet her?
MWB: He met Mary Jackson here when we were having our Exposition in 1935.
That was our second Exposition and it was to try to drag us out of
the doldrums and it did a great deal for us. They had this abbre
viated Shakespeare which was done first in the Chicago Exposition in
1934 and then came here and played in '35 and '36, both summers.
He met her and they were married. They went back to Nevada, Las
Vegas or some place like that, and then came back and stayed with
us for a while. Then they moved to Los Angeles. She'd finished up
the little work and he was covering the Exposition for the Hearst
papers in Los Angeles. Then they went east, and were divorced after
he got home from Europe.
Baum: Since we're tracing Griff ing right now, did he continue his interest
in the birds?
MWB: Yes, but he didn't follow through. He didn't have the time at all.
By that time, his father wasn't well enough to do it.
Griff was still trading a little and keeping track. Before the
beginning of the war, we moved the collection over to the natural
history museum in San Diego, because we sold our house in '41 and
went east for quite a long trip. Then he worked with it up at the
natural history museum. He, by that time, felt that that was the
thing to do. Of course, he wasn't really strong enough to take the
care, and they take a lot of care. That collection is now at UCLA.
Baum: What's the name of the collection?
MWB: Ed Harrison has it. It's open to the public with restrictions.
He's a man who collected with us from the time he was seventeen
years old, and had the wealth and the interest, and still has.
He's one of the directors of the San Diego Natural History Museum.
He has this huge collection in his own residence, close by the
Baum: In Los Angeles?
MWB: Yes. Is it Los Angeles or Pasadena? I'd have to look that up.
Baum: So Ed Harrison, then, collected with Griff, is that right?
Baum: And Griff's collection is now at UCLA?
Baum: It's closed?
MWB: It's incorporated with Ed Harrison's collection. Eggs are so fragile
that they will, unless they have the right temperature and are care
fully taken care of, just shatter as they age. Particularly, you
have to have the right humidity, temperature, and everything. He
has the interest and will have it, I guess, all of his life because
Ed must be around sixty. When Griffing was up here last year, we
went up and spent a whole day with him.
*Margaret Bancroft note, November, 1979: Ed Harrison is now
connected with the Western Foundation of Vertebra Sociology.
Didn't Griff ing, Jr. write a book about eggs?
He's written three books, those three that you saw there. I thought
I showed them to you; maybe I didn't. But yes, he did, and I have
the manuscript, a story of our whole collecting, except that there's
too much about me in it. I think it's an excellent book. They say
they'll publish it, and then when the powers-that-be look into it
thoroughly — there is so much prejudice against egg collecting. They
say we are bad people and they, then, refuse to publish it. Now
it's still in manuscript form, and someday someone's going to do it
when they get over this craze.
Ecology has gone overboard on things like that. There were a few
collectors, but they were all around the United States. A small
number of collectors always taught the people enough about the
care of birds, particularly not to shoot the eagles and hawks. To
collect, you have to have a federal permit and a state permit. You
have to have your collection open for inspection.
For study, I suppose.
For study, yes. Anyone who wanted to come, we always opened our
collection. Of course, we always enjoyed people who came, and had
made friends all over the United States. You correspond and trade
with them, very much like people trade stamps. They have a book
that gives eggs in a cash value, but you cannot sell them. They
have to have some way of giving the value to trade eggs.
Now, when we found the wonderful birds on the island, we
collected a large amount of those eggs and brought them back.
There was just one single egg, so it was very easy, and they were
all just a little short of the size of a hen egg. We traded all
over the United States. We set our own price tag on them, you
might say .
Every type of person could be a collector. There were very few
women who did it. I was not popular with the wives, I tell you,
because I always went.
It sounds like it was too hard for women, usually,
Oh, yes, very strenuous. A tremendous amount of walking and
camping. Nowdays, you'd have campers. Of course, we went on
roads no camper could possibly have gone on. In the early days,
we went on horseback. Griff had ridden a great deal in his life,
but he didn't enjoy riding very much. He was very thin and long-
legged. Half the time, he'd be walking and somebody would be
leading his mule.
Baum: He bounced uncomfortably on the horse?
MWB: Yes. [laughter] Absolutely.
Any hobby is fascinating when you get down into the very bottom
of it. I remember once we were in New York and he said he wanted
to go to Atlantic City. We were there playing tennis. The boys
were practicing. There was no tournament. They were doing some
thing else. The boys, Howe and Johnny Doeg, always met other boys.
Griff said we'd go down to Atlantic City to visit a collector.
I didn't know whether the man owned the hotel or whether he was a
bootblack; I hadn't any idea. He wrote on this stationery I'd
never known. Well, he happened to be the owner or manager and he
put us up very handsomely and we went to see his collection. It was
the first time I'd ever been to Atlantic City.
Once in Washington, Griff and Griff ing went to see a man who had
a collection and the door was slammed in his face. They left, know
ing nothing about this man. They did leave a card and he called us
wherever we were staying. He said, "I'm very sorry about what
happened, but my wife and I have such a disagreement all the time
about eggs. She has a hatred against all egg collectors, but today
she's not going to be home. Would you come and see my collection?"
[laughter] He divorced her and took the collection elsewhere. This
really was true. We were telling it once and somebody said, "Oh,
what a pity." I said, "I wouldn't put my husband up against that,
because I'm sure he'd take the collection and let me go away. I'm
perfectly sure that the collection would come out ahead of me."
But it took the husbands away in the spring of the year and some
one used to say, "How do you get to go on all these trips?" I said,
"Because I know I'm a fine camp cook." They love good food wherever
they are, so I was always one of them. Griff and I traveled as a
team. It was so necessary, on account of his hearing.
Baum: Let me go back to this period right after you left Walnut Creek.
It sounded as if there was about a ten-year period when you were
taking care of the boys and they were getting through college.
And you were interested in the bird egg collecting and the tennis,
and you lived here in San Diego, is that right?
MWB: Yes. We bought a house between Laurel and Maple on First Street.
It was a big two-storey house, very comfortable.
Baum: You must have been away from home quite a bit.
MWB: Oh, surely, we were. We were away a great deal, but we always had
help. I had a remarkably fine woman who came from Sweden. She and
her husband had worked for my sister Susie May. Susie May died in
1918 of TB. 1917 it was, right after we were married; I had to
come down, I remember, for the funeral. Now, where was I?
Baum: You were talking about the Swedish lady who took care of your
MWB: Yes. Thelma Johnson. She didn't live in, but she worked for us
steadily. She had worked for my sister where she and her husband
had a little cottage nearby. Then she came to work for me. All
those years she worked for us, took care of Griff when I was gone.
Her husband would come and get her, or Griff would take her home.
She is, I always say, one of the three great ladies I've known in
my life. She never failed. There are very few great ladies.
Baum: Was Griff handling the Bancroft properties then here in San Diego?
MWB : Yes. After Hubert Howe Bancroft died, they kept certain properties,
particularly the properties in San Francisco. They gave Griff the
farm that was here at Spring Valley — it was a big olive orchard,
several hundred acres in olives — and an old theater and town
property. The boys, Paul and Phil, took the farm at Walnut Creek,
which turned out to be very valuable, and so did this other property,
except we had to sell a lot of it at a disadvantage during the
Depression. Of course, Griff never had a job. He never practiced
law — he was a lawyer — because of his hearing. Any mistake that
would be made would always be made because of his hearing. He kept
his license for many years to practice and he particularly knew law
connected with evaluation of property and laws and all of that. We
finally traded the place at Spring Valley for a building which was
called the Bancroft Building.
Baum: In San Diego?
MWB: Yes. It was First and Broadway. We sold that and cleared up the
big indebtedness that he had on this property and still had some
property scattered here and there. Gradually we sold it until
there's just one piece of property now. I don't own a house any
more. I just rent; I don't want to pay taxes all the rest of my
life. [laughter] I'm through paying taxes. I've paid enough
inheritance and this, that, and the other of taxes. When I moved
into an apartment, they said, "A condominium," and I said, "No, I
want to just rent. Just pure rent. By the year."
Baum: Did the management of this farm and properties take a lot of
MWB: Yes, it did. Then, of course, we went back and forth to San
Francisco for consultation for handling the property at 731
Market Street — that's a six-storey building — and a piece of
property at Van Ness which the boys still own. That property,
of course, all went to the boys, the property that we had in
trust for them. I had the house here and other things of my own,
investments. Griff was very clever about renting and leasing and
handling property that way.
But it didn't tie him down. He'd come home and do it and be
home a week. Then we'd go off on another camping trip.
It was a beautiful time of year. Starting on these islands
out here, Catalina and those islands, we'd go over there by boat.
We didn't own a boat at that time. We always went with a group
of collectors. From the eagles and hawks, we would go gradually
right straight along until you could collect from February till
June. You'd end up in the high mountains in June. We were out
at the most beautiful time of the year. Then we'd come home for
summer. Very easy life. [laughter] It was strenuous.
Baum: It sounds pretty hard. It seems like Griff was doing as much as
any professor or naturalist would have been doing as his career.
MWB: He was. Griff worked at it. You see, every single nest of eggs,
you keep right on it. When you found it; where you found it; how
many eggs; the state of incubation. Then, he wasn't strong enough
to make these trips on muleback, but he always urged me to do it,
and he was playing a great deal of bridge. He would have his
lunch and dinner maybe at the Cuyamaca Club and play bridge when
I'd be on one of these, not long trips.
Down at the Meling Ranch, I drove cattle from halfway up from
Campo. The Meling Ranch was in the high country. You have to
keep the cattle, when you're bringing them to sell, pretty much
in the elevation that they're raised in. Otherwise, you put them
down on the coast and they'd get so many ticks that by the time
you got them up to Tijuana, your cattle wouldn't be fit to sell.
They have no immunity against the ticks. The mountain cattle can't
go to the coast; the coast cattle can't go to the mountains for
that reason. Gradually, they could be shifted, but not in a fast
drive. So we drove cattle through the mountains.
We were camped there one time, we had one man with us, Clyde
Field, a collector, and my husband and I were both looking for
mountain quail eggs. We came back at noon and I said, "Well,
what did you find?" He said, "I didn't find the eggs, but I
found something very valuable for you. Very interesting." I
said, "What?" He said, "Down at the end of the south pasture — "
MWB: (we were in a beautiful little valley, no one in it, and a lake)
" — Salve Meling has come in with nearly five hundred head of
cattle and a group of men and his son. They're driving in to
Campo. Salve said if you'd like to drive with these men and
collect — " (we were there, you see, in an automobile) " — why, you
could take his horse and his equipment — " (Salve was rather short
and I could wear his chaps , his spurs , and everything) " — and you
can go right through this country that we can't possibly cover by
Clyde Field was a collector, very quiet. He was one of the big
collectors. He said, "Margaret, you wouldn't go with those people."
He said, "I was in the camp while Griff was talking. You have no
idea how tentative it is." I said, "But I do. They're all friends
of mine. And I will go with them." Nothing more was said. Salve
came up that night for dinner. Our camps were maybe half a mile
apart. We, in a few words, said that I'd go. We went on talking.
The next morning, they were going to drive back. It was only a
long day's drive from here. I started packing. Clyde again said,
"I think you're making a mistake, Margaret." I said, "I've camped
with the people. Nothing's going wrong. They're going to take
care of me. I'll be better cared for than I would be working
alone," which I did so much of the time. We were in the valley,
but you'd know that you were alone. I put all the goodies, every
thing — we always carried a great deal of extra stuff — and I had a
little snake medicine and put that in my bedroll. We were to meet
them, for the cattle started out at daybreak down the road a
Suddenly an unshaven, dirty man — Eulogo was his name — popped up
right out of the brush and he said, "Ah, Senora, Senora," and I was
very welcome. He lifted up my sleeping bag and a box of groceries
and all sorts of exciting things for them to have — fruits — that they
didn't have. I told Griff goodbye. Clyde Field kept looking around,
looking around, and he said, "Griff, I wouldn't let my wife take a
chance like that." [laughter] First he thought that I was going
to be murdered for my necktie because he looked like that.
Well, in the meantime, they'd all gotten shaven, knowing I was
going to join the group. When we finished the drive that day, they
washed their clothes and got themselves looking quite respectable.
We would drive the cattle, one person going ahead and leading. It
goes very slowly because they graze as you drive them, usually about
fifty of them, then another driver. There were nine men, I think.
Salve's son was about seventeen years old, very blond, and so was
Salve, because they were Norwegian. He spoke Spanish better than
he spoke English, but he spoke English. The rest of them spoke
MWB: Suddenly a call would come back, being relayed, "Un nido , un nido,
a nest, Senora." I'd say, "What class?" "Pajaro azur," which meant
blue bird. Well, that could have been anything that was blue. It
could have been a blue jay. [laughter] It could have been blue
birds — the mountain bluebird was up in that country — but they were
all interesting to me. And they had found a nest. They'd halt the
whole thing, just let the cattle graze. One man would stand and
guard the nest so the cattle wouldn't knock it down. It would be
right in the brush. Or it would be a black-tailed gnat catcher or
a hummingbird. I'd go up. I had equipment on a horse — it was a
very quiet horse — and I think I had some of the equipment on a mule,
too. We had boxes and, of course, Griff gave me all this equipment
and packed it in alforjas. They were nearing the end of the drive.
We had a week to go, but they'd been driving for two weeks before
that. Then I would tell them what kind of bird it was. The boy
could usually translate it into Spanish — and Spanish to English and
back. And I would pack the egg. Maybe it would take half an hour.
You have to take a long piece of cotton and wrap around and around
one way and another. Then put it into a little box-like container.
From that into a big box, and from there into the alforja.
Baum: What is that word you're saying?
MWB: It's the alforja.
Baum: Is this a box with a little compartment?
MWB: No, it's the big packing cases that go on each side of a mule.
You put the pack saddle on and then lift these up and hook them
over. That's where you put all your provisions. On top of that,
you throw your bedrolls. Then on top of that you throw a canvas.
It's a great art, packing a mule, I tell you. But I always had my
own collecting bag that I carried by hand. I had that right on
my horse. We were riding horses at that time, some horses and
some mules .
We had maybe three hours at noon when we let the cattle graze.
We would have to cook lunch, because you had to have coffee and
you had to make tortillas. If you had something left over, beans,
you'd heat those and put them in the tortillas and wrap them. And
that was it for lunch. Then they'd take a siesta. We were follow
ing a stream bed down from high country down to lower country.
Then they'd make camp. Sometimes I'd be way behind, but one of
the men would always stay near or Salve's son, Felipe.
This was the Meling boy.
MWB: Yes. I remember he came to get me one afternoon and he said, "Great
excitement in camp. Did you notice those sheep that were going by
the other side of the valley?" and I said, "Yes." He said, "Well,
we bought a lamb and they're butchering it now. We're going to eat
the liver and the ribs tonight." It was quite a celebration. I
broke out a bottle of tequila. They sang. Nearly always on those
trips, they carried a guitar strapped right onto the pack. It was
a moonlit night and we sang and sang. But when I came up — I had
cleaned up a little and they had finished cooking and were waiting
for me — here was this dead lamb staring at me. They left it on the
side. They hadn't finished butchering it, you see. They were
ready to eat the liver and the ribs that were barbecued over the
fire. I took one look and turned my back as fast as I could. That
was just a little more than I could take. But I was hungry enough
that I ate the ribs and the liver and the tortillas. I had some
extra dried fruit, things like that, for dessert. When I broke out
that bottle of liquor, I said, "Now, it's just going to be half.
Each man is going to have a drink tonight and a drink tomorrow
night." They were so cute and so polite.
I think it was the next night we were down in rather a deep
canyon and we had to put the cattle down, which was almost like in
a corral. They put lariats right straight across the canyon, so it
was a fence. Everybody had a lariat. Then they put saddle blankets
all over to keep the cattle from going through it. The cattle
weren't happy and you knew it because they kept lowing. That night,
they literally sang to those cattle, all night long.
They were kidding me in Spanish and I sometimes would miss a
little and I said to Philip in English — we tried to talk Spanish
entirely — "Philip, is there going to be a stampede?" He said, and
it was almost a stutter, "Mrs. Bancroft, I think it would be wise
to sleep with your boots on tonight. You just get over beside that
tree, and if you hear anyone yell, 'Watch out.' 1 , just lean as hard
as you can against that tree. Hug that tree and you'll be safe."
I actually put my boots on. This time, we'd gotten down in rough
country with some cactus, so I slept with my boots on, but they
didn't stampede. If they had, they'd have come right through camp.
Baum: Were they afraid of wild animals like bobcats?
MWB: No, no. Anything would spook them.
Baum: I see. You could just tell when they were nervous.
MWB: Well, because they were lowing; they weren't happy. There was no
feed down there. There was water. But they were cold and they
just were milling. The men took turns, an hour at a time or two
hours; the men would go down there. They took the guitar down there
MWB: and played and sang, and built fires. They had at least three fires
going all night long. I didn't do it, because I was so tired myself
and they said they had enough men to do it. I never was in a real
stampede. That night, every time I woke up, I wondered what was
going on. The moon was shining. That's another thing that disturbed
them, and the coyotes barking.
Baum: Did you ever think of going into the cattle business as a way of
making a living?
Baum: That was just for fun.
MWB: Just fun. It was a way of getting out with the Melings.
Baum: It was a way of advancing your egg collecting.
MWB: Yes. Salve Meling said I spoiled three or four vaqueros because
they were looking for birds' eggs, looking down instead of looking
up here where the cattle were. They were always chasing wild
cattle, or half-wild cattle. It wasn't on this trip particularly,
but when I went down there at other times.
Baum: Weren't a lot of Americans investing in ranching and farming in
Baja California in the '30s?
MWB: Yes. The Melings, the whole Meling family. That's a story in
itself. They went there in '86. The Johnsons — Mrs. Meling was
a Johnson. They were right on the coast; then they bought this
place up the valley. The Meling ranch in San Jose is about 2,200
feet. They had a mine above that, miles from there, that was quite
productive at one time, a gold mine. Mr. Johnson was more inter
ested, but he was interested in making a living for a very big
family. They gave this property to Birdie Johnson when she married
The Melings came here to work on the coast in any capacity they
could. Going to see or lightering is really what they were
interested in doing. From Ensenada, they carried in supplies
from a bay someplace to the gold mines. People were very interested
in gold mining and there was a lot of money taken out of Baja
California at one time. There were Mexicans, Americans — every
type of person was gold mining, just as they were in the days of
'49. But this was at the end of it.
Baum: During the Depression, how did your properties in San Diego fare?
MWB: Badly. Everything did. People didn't have the money to pay the
rent, or you had to keep cutting your rents. We cut our way of
life, I remember, to one- tenth of what we were spending in one
month. That's when we came back on the Least Petrel. We got a
letter from Phil and Paul saying that they couldn't send the sum.
Most of the money came from the rentals of the San Francisco
property. Griff said he didn't know how we could do it and I said,
"We'll just stop spending." And we did. Actually, we had all the
equipment for these trips and you didn't spend a lot of money.
Going on the boat was expensive, but we had already bought the boat
and made the trip.
Sons Griff ing, Jr. and Howe////
Baum: You and your husband, Griff, went around the tennis circuit with
Howe up to '27.
MWB: Through '27. In '28, Griff and I were on a trip to Europe for four
months. Howe was in boarding school in Berkeley and Griff ing was in
college. Griff ing was in the University of Chicago. Howe was in a
coaching school. He was really in boarding school, in Berkeley. It
was a small, private, coaching school. He went to Stanford in 1928.
His tennis playing ended right there. Howe went around the world as
a cadet on a cruise ship the summer of 1928. Griff ing and I went to
Europe and we met at Marseilles. The first thing Howe asked was if
we had any money .
Baum: You met Howe at Marseilles.
MWB: Marseilles. He was out of money and we were practically out of
money. My letter of credit had never reached me. We went to
American Express and there was a check there from Griff, Sr. for
the both of us.
Baum: When you were in Europe, this Griffing was Griffing, Jr.
MWB: Oh, yes. Griffing, Jr.
Baum: Not your husband.
MWB: Oh, no. He had had his day because his father and mother had dragged
him all over Europe and Mexico, and he was through with it, but he
wanted Griffing and me to go. His father said he had to get certain
grades. They sent a man on a mule twenty-five miles up in the
mountains in San Ignacio, Baja California, where we were making our
headquarters. We opened the message and the only thing it said was,
"Okay. Ready to go to Europe." [laughter]
MWB: His grades were okay. So we immediately packed and went down to
Santa Rosalia and were given a great going-away party by the ranch
and Mexican colonies. We went across on La Providencia. That was
really part of the Rothschilds' holdings. They owned a fifty-year
lease on land for copper. From Guaymas I left Griff and Tony was
with us. They were drving up the coast. I got a train, went to
Tucson, and from there to Chicago and met Griffing. My clothes met
me, too. I had nothing to wear except two tennis dresses.
Then we took the Canadian Pacific because they went to London.
We were in Europe, I guess it was for two and a half months, the
whole summer vacation. When we came back, Griff went to Chicago
and I went to New York and visited and then came home. That was
Howe had made a trip around the world on a big cruise ship, on
which he was a cadet. He went into Stanford that fall. He gave up
his tennis about that time because it took so much of his time, and
he had to keep up his studies. Then he fell in love; I guess he'd
been in college two years. He quit college to go to work so he
could marry. But he didn't marry the girl he was in love with, so
he went into the newspaper business. He started with the Sun, the
San Diego Sun, again a Scripps paper, and stayed there for some
time. Then he went to Washington and got a job. I don't remember
what his job was there on the newspaper, but he landed in writing
for the Agriculture Department. From that time on, he was with the
Agriculture Department for a number of years.
He didn't go into World War II because of back trouble. But he
went into the "Voice of America" when it was first formed. I'm
not sure of that date, but it was during World War II. From that
time on, he stayed with the "Voice of America," writing entirely,
and doing research work for them. He was in charge of one division.
He went around the world for them at one time, around India. He
was in Egypt. He was all over; wherever the "Voice of America" was
used, he was there. He married Mary Durand. Her father was tariff
commissioner. They had two daughters, Nancy and Beverly. He and
Mary were divorced; I can't remember the date of the divorce. Then
he was married to a girl whose name I don't remember. There we are.
[laughter] He is now retired and living in Alexandria, Virginia.
Where are we going from there?
Philip Bancroft, Republican Candidate for Senator, 1938
Baum: Somewhere along the line, we did mention that in the late '30s, you
and Griff worked on Philip Bancroft's campaign for the nomination
for senator from California, so I think we've covered that.
MWB: Phil Bancroft got very disturbed over the situation with union
labor, connected with farm labor, and began to do a good deal of
talking publicly, and one thing led to another, and he made the
decision in 1938, in early spring, to run for the senate. From
the moment he announced that, both Griff and I devoted our time
completely to his campaign. We took San Diego County. Griff took
the city and I took the county and organized it. We carried it
very handsomely, I think something like three to one. We were very
proud of that. [laughter] We went with him, at times, to Los
Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento. When he won the nomination,
I was with him in Sacramento, and Anne Bancroft. Nina had a heart
attack at that time and was very much out of it.
It was about a week before election when the trouble started.
The tremendous force came out against us, which was manipulated
from Washington because they did not want Phil in there. He was
far too honest and forthright, plus he had money and couldn't be
bought. It was a Democratic year. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was
president, and there was definitely no chance of a Republican
winning, so we were licked. It was marvelous the way the family —
every one in the family — pitched in. They gave Griff ing, Jr. a
leave of absence from the Hearst papers, and he traveled with Phil —
I guess it was the last two months of his campaigning — all over
Margaret Bancroft's Work During World War II
MWB: Speaking of war, when the war started, I was on the board of
directors of the Red Cross at this time. They asked you to do
quite a big job there, but I thought I could do more by taking a
regular job. I took a job as counselor at Convair, Consolidated,
it was at that time. I wanted to be Rosie the Riveter, but they
wouldn't let me because they thought I knew so much about San Diego
County and San Diego itself that I would be far more use to the war
effort by helping the girls who were coming by droves in to do
electrical work. Some of them were almost riveting. All kinds of
work. I was there for two years. I won an E pin because I never
missed a day and never was late for work for one year. And they
gave out pins, like school children. [laughter] I've got it some
where still. Then I became sick and had pneumonia and had to get
out. My war work was over. I was trying to win it all by myself
and found I couldn't quite do that. But it was a great experience.
We were the first to put women into the airplane plants. They were
untrained women. We had a lot of manicurists who turned out to be
fine workers in the electrical department.
MWB: Because of their hands. Every type of woman. I remember so well,
people would say to me, "Why did my cook leave and go into that hard
work? Would you find out?" Someone had told them she'd seen me, or
something. I said, "I know it without having to make any talk with
the girl." Invariably, they said it was the thing to do at the
Baum: Sure, the patriotic thing.
MWB: Patriotic thing. There they had so much company and so much more
fun. Housework is lonely work, the loneliest work you can have.
Here there was an equality of how good you were as a worker and that
was it. So, it was a big social occasion. Everyone went in pool
cars. It had its attraction, besides the attraction of loyalty to
Baum: And better wages, too, as I recall.
MWB: Oh, yes, yes, they were. But when you added it up, actually, in
most cases, they were better off in the job they had as a cook or
as a maid or anything, but this was a different world. All of them
wanted to do that. They put plenty of women in the kitchen and the
washtub that didn't have to be, but they simply literally couldn't
get help. I think that was one of the best things that ever happened
from the woman's standpoint because the war gave them an equality
they'd never had before.
Baum: When you say we were the first to put women in the aircraft, do you
mean here in San Diego?
MWB: That's as I understood it.
Baum: I see.
MWB: Because they had to redo the buildings. They were made for men only.
They would have to redo the restrooms, and there was a whole new
deal. The foremen and the supervisors, in the beginning, resented
us very much. They began handling women and realized you had to
have a woman who would follow some girl into a restroom in hysterics
over some mistake she had made, or some man had pinched her in the
fanny while they were wiring the airplane or something — and a man
couldn't go into the restroom. That was one of our jobs, keeping
these girls on their jobs, more than anything. We particularly
tried to get them to eat more regularly and eat decent food to keep
them from being absent. We gave them talks when they first came in
and then kept after them. I remember one woman came in crying one
day. She was insulted. [interruption, door buzzer]
Baum: You followed somebody into the restroom who was insulted?
MWB: She came in, rather, to my office. She said the doctor had insulted
her. She said, "I'm not obscene. 1 " I said, "Didn't he say 'obese'?"
"Well, it was some word like that. And I've never been obscene in
my life." I said, "Do you know what the word 'obese' means?"
"Well," she said, "I don't know, but it wasn't anything connected
with me." I said, "It really means that you're overweight and they
can't carry insurance on you." [laughter] We had to teach them how
to use the plumbing, a lot of these girls. They were fresh off of
[speaks to someone who has entered the room]
Now, where do we go on from there?
Family Life After the War
Baura: All right. We briefly touched on the war. I just wonder what
other outstanding things you recall on the period from 1945 on.
MWB: We went back to collecting birds' eggs and back to living a
regular life. It took a lot of doing for everybody to get back
to normal. We stayed east with the boys a lot; then they came
out here. We did take some more trips into Baja California, but
never strenuous trips because Griff's health was failing. He had
a bad hemorrhage in 1952 and wasn't really ever well again until
he died in 1955.
Baum: Did he sell off some of the property, or did he have to continue
managing the property?
MWB: We had sold, during the Depression, quite a bit of property. A lot
of it was at a loss because you just had to have money to keep
going, and people couldn't keep on paying the taxes. We went on
paying the taxes. I will say that, as long as I can trace back,
there was never a time, regardless of how depressed the country
was, that we didn't continue to pay more taxes. I'm glad, now,
not to have much property.
Baum: So the taxes went up, no matter what happened.
MWB: Regardless. [laughter] They went up. Now where do we go?
Baum: Before Griff died in 1955.
MWB: Yes. In '46, we moved out to La Jolla. That was something he
enjoyed. What I had completely forgotten, he was completely bitten
by raising flowers when we bought this house with a good deal of
land. He got started raising orchids. At that time, there was a
great deal of interest in raising cymbidiums. In the East, they
had been shipped over from England and people began to be very
interested in orchid culture. From that, it drifted west and
became the most popular and extravagant flower you could raise.
You bought the bulbs at a terrific price. We built a glass house
and had that until he died. Afterwards, I sold that piece of
property. He loved that.
Griff always had a hobby. He had a hobby way back of photo
graphy and he had a hobby of playing chess, postal chess. He
played it with both of his sons. He was a tremendous reader
because of his deafness. Griff would get up at daybreak to hear
Griff ing talk at eight o'clock in Washington — that was radio.
Then, of course, he was always interested in politics, always did
some political work because he believed in it very strongly. He
felt that everybody should help politically.
We always had a very happy social life. More and more, we did
things at home and didn't travel as much as he grew older. I used
to, sometimes, take the trips down to Baja California, but at that
period of time, I didn't. However, I did soon after Griff died.
I went down there, and out of five years, I spent a whole year,
a month or two at a time at the ranch, just riding the range. I
got very interested in archaeology and collected for the Museum of
Man. I took two winters studying that and worked in the Museum of
Man, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Balboa Park here
in San Diego. And I took a trip to Europe; I was gone about nine
months. I took another trip with a sister all over Central
America and Mexico. From the time I've been here, I've been very
busy — traveling half the time, not so far, but still having good
fun. Swimming. End of life to date. [laughter]
Baum: I see you have a lot of family to keep up with.
MWB: Oh, yes. I do. I've moved down a generation with most of my
friends because so many of them are gone now or not interested
in doing things — the things that we're doing that I'm interested
in. I'm still swimming and still riding horseback. I go down to
the Meling ranch at least once or twice a year. That's where I do
Baum: I know you have a birthday coming up. What birthday is that?
MWB: I was born in 1893, July the 10th, which is next Sunday. That's
the end of the story. [laughter]
Baum: If you had a chance to lead your life over again, would you
continue it in the movies?
MWB: No. You mean if I were given exactly the same talents and every
thing?- I don't think so. The talent or the determination to make
the sacrifice — sometimes an unnatural sacrifice — to get where you
have to get in both the stage and the movies — I don't think I would
have gone on in that. I would have studied more. I had the time.
I should have made the time to take courses in college, not for any
reason except for just the knowledge. But I got it in a different
way. Griff was my teacher most of the time. [laughter] He pounded
a lot of things into my head. From that time on, at this age, you're
just glad you're alive. I'm having fun.
Baum: What do you think of the current women's movement?
MWB: I'll go along with most of it. I would never want to be a man,
though. I am too willing to take the privileges that women have
and not try to take a lot of privileges to do work that men do.
I really don't think that we're fitted for it and I don't think
we're physically fitted for it. A lot of things we are and a lot
of things we aren't. I'm not going to sit in deep criticism of
them any more than I am at a lot of things the young people are
doing. I go along with them. I'm not going to fight at this time
of life. I want to have fun.
Baum: I was wondering what kind of goals you had in mind for your grand
daughters and now great-granddaughters.
MWB: [laughter] They've got to live their lives the way they see fit
because it is such a different world. It's hard enough just to
keep up with it without worrying about them. I enjoy them and I
do for them; have pleasure with having them with me on and off.
There are so many nephews; I'm a little partial to the men. I
enjoy their company particularly. I don't like to be with too
many women en masse. It makes me nervous.
XI HUBERT HOWE BANCROFT'S DESCENDENTS
[Interview 6: September 28, 1978]##
Children and Grandchildren
Baum: We have several things to pick up on from our previous interviews.
I'd be particularly interested in a little more information on
Hubert Howe Bancroft's will. I think we'd been talking earlier
about how he felt about his grandsons and his granddaughters, and
his sons and daughters, and the difference in how he treated the
boys and girls. Perhaps how he settled his will might give us
some illustration of his character.
MWB: Hubert Howe Bancroft, I would say, there was nothing modern about
the way he felt about women. It was extremely old-fashioned. He
started out with Kate, his first daughter, who was very self-
opinionated. She wanted her own way. She was his only child by
the first marriage. From the time she was eight until she was
sixteen, she lived in his home with nursery governesses, and went
to school in San Francisco. He spent a great deal of time with
her and took her with him on many trips. He seemed to have a great
deal of love in that way.
Then when he married Matilda Griffing, he had his first son,
Paul Bancroft. He didn't believe in middle names, so Paul Bancroft
it was. He said the men in the family would take care of the women,
That was his point of view always when it came to the matter of
money. He gave his children a great deal and also a great deal of
But when it came to the three boys who were born within a few
years, and then his daughter Lucy, the story goes that he said to
his wife, "Now if you're going to act that way, I'm not going to
have any more children.'" [laughter] And they didn't.
Margaret Wood Bancroft and
Dr. John Ross, Jr., Professor
of Medicine, University of
California, San Diego, on the
occasion of the presentation
of the Library of Griffing
and Margaret Bancroft to the
Library, University of Cali
fornia, San Diego, 1971
Margaret Wood Bancroft
Ruth Lineaueaver Swisher, 1976
Baum: The story was that he preferred the boys to the girls?
MWB: Very definitely. He did — though he got a great deal of pleasure,
particularly out of Kate in those years.
Baum: I don't know if I should ask you this question because you probably
don't know the answer, but do you know why Kate was an only child
MWB: Emily Ketchum.
Baum: Yes. Was that because they were unable to have more children or
they didn't want any more?
MWB: No, because she was unable. She became ill and died when Kate was,
I think, just eight. Then he remarried when Kate was sixteen.
He had plans for his sons. They must all — the three of them — go
to Harvard, which they did. In the meantime, he was doing extremely
well with his publishing of his books and also the publishing
company, many facets of that. He bought a lot of real estate. He
was a man who never overspent himself.
If he made a dollar a day as a young man, he'd put away ten
cents. That was more or less his way of living throughout his
life. When the books were finished and he began to travel more,
he made this will out, giving his property to his three sons.
Then he remade a will every year or so, so that if anyone tried
to break the will, they would have to go back to the number of
years that he had made these different wills, all a little bit
Baum: I see. He wanted a succession of wills so that the new one — if you
broke it, you'd have to go back to the previous one.
MWB: Yes. And always back of that.
One of the things in early life he decided was that he didn't
think his own boys, anyone, was really capable of taking care of
that business until they were thirty-five years old. So this
property was left — I'm not sure of the technical name, but it was
left in trust for the sons, and they were to give so much money,
monthly income, to his daughters.
Now, his daughter Kate was married, I think in the late '80s,
and he thought, very decidedly, that her husband should support
her. But he always gave her money. That's what he thought, that
she must learn to live without his support.
MWB: His daughter Lucy never married and he was very generous with her.
But when he did die, the two girls received an annuity yearly, for
life. At one time, they were getting more money than either of the
three sons, during the Depression years, but that had to be first
paid out of all of the money that they had. That carried through
over the years until his last son died. That's as far, I think,
in law that you can go — one generation beyond the generation. It's
different from the way that the English do it.
Baum: What carried over, Margaret? Phil died in August, 1975. And Lucy?
MWB: She is still living. Just a shadow, but she's still living. She's
in her nineties. Kate died, and he always paid Kate this money
despite the fact that she was married.
Are there any other questions you wanted to ask me about that?
Baum: So he left the boys the money, but they could manage it. But the
girls had a set amount that was guaranteed to them ahead of every
MWB: Yes. An annuity.
He didn't graduate that according to the total of money. So,
as I say, at one time during the depths of the Depression in the
'30s, they were getting more money than the boys. It was never
changed by them. Lucy, to this day, is getting her annuity, which
is comparatively small, but she had other things given to her
besides, stuff she inherited from her mother.
Baum: Did he think that women were not able to manage their own incomes
or their affairs?
MWB: That was more or less his idea. They could manage the home, though
he depended a great deal on his wife.
Baum: I'm thinking of what Matilda did. It sounded like she must have
been a tremendous manager of the household, children, and servants.
MWB: Well, she was, but that was woman's work. That wasn't financing.
He was providing the money.
Now the boys — you see, it's down to the grandsons, and they can
do as they choose.
Baum: Do the grandsons have to wait until they're thirty-five to get their
MWB: No, because you can't do that by law. One generation beyond the
generation that was living when he died.
Baum: It sounds like that thirty-five year age was fairly reasonable, to
MWB: Well, it was. None of his grandsons ever received, of course, any
money during his lifetime. In other words, they never received any
money except as the parents wanted to give them money. But they
never received any money legally from the grandfather.
I think that covers that point pretty well.
Baum: We started in there with Kate. Maybe we could go on and mention
briefly what each of his children did — who they married and what
their jobs were.
MWB: Kate Bancroft married Charles 0. Richards.
Baum: What was his occupation?
MWB: He worked at one time with Mr. Bancroft and then he also owned
property here in San Diego and had an ice and cold storage company.
But in the early days, he did a great deal with Mr. Bancroft,
working with him.
Baum: Here in San Diego.
MWB: Yes, in San Diego. I think in the early days he was in San Fran
They had two children. One of them, the oldest one, was Ruth,
and the second daughter was Katherine. Kate Richards was a very
extravagant person who believed in living as the English and the
French lived. She spent a great deal of time educating her children
in France, Italy, and Germany. They were there when the earthquake
came, and he sent for them to come back, not knowing what was going
Ruth Richards married Charles Lineaweaver of Philadelphia.
Katherine Richards married Edgar Allan Poe II, a connection of
the Edgar Allan Poe. Both of the women are dead, and also their
Baum: Charles Lineaweaver — what was his occupation?
MWB: He was a Philadelphia banker.
And Edgar Allan Poe II — what was he?
Were they both eastern men?
Yes. Edgar Allan Poe lived in Baltimore and Charles Lineaweaver
lived in Philadelphia — Mainline people.
How did these Richards girls meet gentlemen from the East there?
Because their mother took them east a great deal of the time. They
were educated in the East and also in Europe. Then they lived some
of the time there.
Ruth made her debut; I guess it was a year or two years after
the earthquake and fire in San Francisco. They traveled a great
I think you mentioned that Kate and her husband were separated.
Pleasantly separated for a good many years. She never wanted a
divorce, and neither did he. But they didn't get along well enough
to live together. The girls very often spent some of their time —
a year with the father and then with the mother, after they were
out of school.
Did Hubert Howe Bancroft have much contact with these granddaughters
of his — Kate's daughters?
Yes. He was very fond of them, particularly Ruth, and spent a lot
of time with them. He was very anxious to have this great debut
party. They bought the H.E. Huntington house in San Francisco
right after the earthquake because all their property, with their
living quarters and everything, was destroyed.
The Huntington house had a beautiful ballroom. That's the reason
he bought it, so that they could have this coming-out party. I
guess Babe [Katherine] just didn't because she was doing something
else. They were lovely-looking girls and he was very proud of them.
Did he spend any time on their education?
time before you knew him.
I realize this is all a
He was very determined. Of course, Kate wanted them to be educated,
particularly in France and Italy and Germany. She put so much more
thought into their learning the arts. She was a great singer her
self. As a matter of fact, Kate Richards could have gone into
grand opera. She was big, statuesque, a very handsome woman. But
Grandfather Bancroft said, "No, nice women didn't do that," in
those days, you see. So she didn't.
MWB: Ruth was in the First World War. She went on the first ship of
civilians that went to Europe after the First World War was
declared and got the position. She was, in the beginning, with
the Red Cross and then went into special work. She got the posi
tion because she spoke French so fluently. Katherine stayed in
New York with her mother during the war and was one of the drivers.
What did they call them — ?
Baum: The ambulance drivers?
MWB: Not ambulance — it wasn't that — carrying important people around.
I guess it was part of the American Red Cross. They both received
commendations for their work in the war. Ruth was there past the
armistice. She stayed on to drive and to interpret during the
peace treaty meetings, I guess, at Versailles.
Baum: Were there any children of these children — Ruth and Katherine?
MWB: Yes. Ruth has one daughter, who lives right here in La Jolla, who
is named for her mother, Ruth Richards Lineaweaver. She's married
to Robert Swisher. They have three children — don't ask for their
names [laughter] — but they're charming children.
Baum: Do you see Dickie Swisher?
MWB: Yes. Very often. I've kept up with all of the family. I'm the
one person that has done that, and I've never had fights with any
of them. [laughter] They're pretty good at fighting, too. They've
been really marvelous to me and I've enjoyed all of them — every one
Baum: Did Babe have any children? Katherine?
MWB: Yes, she has two, a daughter, Kitty, and a son, Edgar Allan Poe III.
They lived always in Baltimore and they live on the eastern shore
Baum: Is there anything more about Kate's family that you think we need
to know? Especially if anything's illustrative of Hubert Howe
MWB: I think not. They've grown up, still out of jail — they're all
Baum: Now comes this second family, which I guess was at least sixteen
years later than Kate, is that right?
MWB: Yes. Let's see, Kate was born in 1860, I know that. Her mother
died, I think it was 1868, and Hubert Howe Bancroft remarried, to
Matilda Griff ing, and that was in 1876. Then they had the three
sons and the one daughter.
Baum: That first boy was Paul, wasn't it?
Baum: So Griff's older brother was Paul.
MWB: There were Paul, Griff ing, and Philip — no second names.
Baum: Paul, I think you told me, was married to Louise Hazzard?
Baum: And she was a San Diego girl?
Baum: And they had one son? Am I correct in that?
MWB: One son — Paul, Jr.
Baum: I read his name in the social pages sometimes.
MWB: Yes. And he's married and divorced. He had one son, who's Paul
Bancroft III, a charming man. As a matter of fact, he sent me
Baum: Oh, that smoked pheasant we had for lunch was from Paul III?
MWB: Paul, the third. He came and visited me.
Baum: Maybe it's Paul III I read about in the social pages.
MWB: No, Paul, Jr. is written up very often by Charles McCabe and Herb
Caen. And his wife, Kitty. They live at Puerto Vallarta part of
the year, and live right in San Francisco the other part.
Baum: Kitty is the second wife?
MWB: Yes. Paul III has four children. Don't ask me their names.
Baum: I recall that Paul, Sr. did most of the management of the property
from the San Francisco base, is that correct?
MWB: Yes. And Phil, after he came back from the war, took over the big
place at Walnut Creek, which is about four hundred and some odd
acres — that was pears and walnuts — and also helped Paul manage the
Baum: Yes, Philip was a farmer.
MWB: Phil trained as a lawyer, but when he came back from the war, he
wasn't well, and he said he was never going to stay inside, never
going to practice law again.
Baum: Getting back to Paul, who managed the property. What did Paul, Jr.
MWB: Paul, Jr. had a good time [laughter] — a lovely time.' He graduated
from Yale and had a job in New York; I'm not sure exactly what he
did. He came west. At one time, he had the advertising and selling
of the Russian vodka, and he didn't stay with it; otherwise he'd
have made a fortune. But, of course, he is a very rich person.
Baum: Is this from his inheritances?
MWB: Oh, yes.
Baum: From his mother's family, maybe, too.
MWB: Yes, the Hazzards have money. As he once said to Cora, "You know,
I really don't like to work."
Baum: Oh, yes? But he was a businessman primarily.
MWB: In business, yes. He had a little bit of this and a little bit of
that. He's a man in his seventies now, you see.
Baum: From what I read about in the social pages, he's pretty active,
zinging around doing things.
MWB: Oh, yes, real jet set.
Baum: So I gather the Bancrofts are a long-lived people.
MWB: Yes, they are, definitely.
Baum: Now came Griff, Griff ing.
MWB: He went to Harvard, graduated, then studied law. He handled the
San Diego property over a long period of time, and had hobbies,
because he was deaf. His mother took him all over the United
States and all over Europe to try to cure adenoids. Now it would
be the simplest thing in the world, but then it wasn't. The
minute they began having electric hearing devices, he had every
electrical device known.
Griff wrote The Interlopers, which was really about the invasion
of California by the Japanese before World War I. That was the
book he was writing when we were in Walnut Creek. It was the year
we lived there.
Baum: You said that Hubert Howe Bancroft and he would talk about that
MWB: Yes. He was intensely interested in Griff writing and always felt
that Griff had the power to do it, but he didn't have the stick-to-
itiveness to do it. I always said he wrote too perfect English.
He was so careful of everything — the construction and everything
else. His writing never had the charm that Griff himself had. He
was a very, very witty person and very, very charming.
Baum: You were saying Griff was so meticulous as a writer that he lost
some of the charm that —
MWB: The spontaneity of his talking, because he didn't talk that way at
all! He wasn't didactic in anything, but he was didactic in his
writing. Even in his Flight of the Least Petrel, you see some of
that. He had a tremendous sense of humor which never came out in
his writing. Griffing, Jr. is a little bit like him. They just,
I think, iron out the English until it's perfect, but hasn't the
spontaneity that people should have in their writing.
Baum: That's what we hope tape recording will help people get over,
because some people can talk it into the tape recorder and then
patch it up a little bit, and it will be a lot better than if they
write it first.
MWB: That's right.
Now, Griff's children. The oldest one was Barbara. Barbara is
dead now. And then Griffing, Jr. and .Howe.
Baum: Barbara, you mentioned, lived with her mother most of her life.
MWB: Yes, she did; she chose to. When they were getting their divorce,
Barbara was going into her teens and was old enough to make her own
decision. She loved New York and lived in the East. It was much
wiser, in all ways, that she did it.
But she and I, not when they were right in the divorce, but
afterwards, became great friends.
Baum: Did Barbara come to stay with you sometimes after the divorce?
MWB: Many, many times. She came here to La Jolla. When we lived up the
hill, she and her second husband and the two children came and spent
a month with us.
Baum: I wondered, when she was a child, did she visit?
MWB: Barbara was twelve and a half when I first knew her. Of course,
when a child is fourteen, they have more or less a choice. She
naturally stayed with her mother.
Baum: Was she as rambunctious as those two boys?
MWB: Oh, yes. [laughter] Yes, very — and very funny. She used to claim
she was the oldest of the grandchildren because I think she was
about six months older than Paul, Jr. I can still remember their
getting into a fist fight over that when they were just about
thirteen or fourteen years old and [chuckles] I had to separate
them. She just went like a wild woman — like a woman would fight.
But she had a great, sharp sense of humor sometimes. Pretty
satirical — but she was a charming personality. A great reader.
She made her living for a long time, writing. Part of it.
She was married, too, but she always wrote. Her first husband,
Samson Raphaelson, who wrote the story that one of the great
comedians that blacked his face —
Baum: Al Jolson?
MWB: Al Jolson.
Baum: I've almost got it, but I can't think — it's the name of an occupa
tion, like the singer —
MWB: The Jazz Singer.
Baum: The Jazz Singer. He wrote that?
MWB: Samson Raphaelson, and he married Barbara Bancroft right at that
time. It was such a success that they went to Europe, and she came
home with a divorce. Samson Raphaelson is still alive. He's
writing in Hollywood.
Then her second husband was Louis Molloy, who was private
lawyer to Mayor La Guardia in New York City. He was in quite
deeply in politics, and a very attractive person. He is dead.
Baum: Barbara's dead, too, you say.
Baum: Do you know if Hubert Howe Bancroft spent any time with Barbara?
MWB: As a tiny child, very much, because she was the first-born grand
child, you see, and he was very interested in her. She came and
spent the summer months with us when we were there.
Baum: In Walnut Creek? In 1917?
MWB: Yes. He was very interested.
Baum: I know you lent me that lovely picture of Matilda with Barbara.
Why don't you give me a little summary of Griff ing, Jr. and
Howe. I know we've talked about them on and off throughout, but
it would be nice to have a little summary of Griffing first.
MWB: Griffing went to school right in San Diego, a grammar school. Then
he graduated from the University of Chicago.
After trying to do some importing business out of Mexico with a
friend of Griff's, he came back and decided he wanted to go into
writing. I remember taking him down to the San Diego Sun, which
was at that time owned by the Scripps. The editor, Hal Bartlett,
was a great friend of mine. He was very blunt and stormed around
and he said to Griffing, "What do you know?" about this, that, and
the other. Griffing said, "Well, I can start out with reviews
because I am such a great — " He was such a great reader.
He said [gruffly], "When can you go to work?" Griff said, "Now."
He said, "Take off your coat and do so and so," and that's what he
did. [chuckles] .Then he went from the Sun to the Hearst papers
and was with them in Chicago. From Los Angeles and Sacramento, he
went east and worked for Hearst.
Then he went into the war. He was in three and a half years as
a correspondent. He managed one paper right in Italy. Then he
came back and went with Marshall Field, a paper in Chicago. It
failed. Then Griffing went into CBS.
His real baby was "Capitol Cloakroom." That was done first on
radio and then from that he went into television. He stayed with
that until he retired. Now he's down in Florida, writing, studying
and working with the Audubon Society, and he goes on guided tours,
which he loves dearly. I've got an awfully good story done by a
Fort Meyers paper on him.
His first marriage was to Mary Jackson, who is now with "The
Waltons" on television. She's one of the elderly sisters that
make — they call it "the recipe" and it turned out, of course, it
was nothing but good old corn whiskey brewed slowly. They're
great characters! She's in Los Angeles. I see her now.
Baum: She was an actress?
MWB : Always an actress. She played with the first group that played in
the Globe Theater. They did that shortened version of Shakespeare.
1935, 1936. They were married in '36. Then they went east and she
did a lot of work. She played on and off Broadway. She never was
a star, but she was a grand supporting actress.
She and Griff ing broke up while Griff ing was abroad, and he
married Jane Eads. Jane Eads was with the Washington Post for
years. She wrote anything she wanted to write about Washington,
D.C. — women, always women. They live in Captiva [Florida] and in
the summertime they go north. She's a charming person. You would
enjoy both of them; they're just darling. They're so much fun, and
Baum: Sounds like the Bancroft boys brought interesting girls into the
MWB: Yes, they did. They certainly did.
Baum: Starting with Griff and bringing in that movie starlet. [laughter]
MWB: Then the last one is Howe. Hubert Howe named him that and always
called him Howe. Howe had two years at Stanford; then he quit. He
was in love and wanted to go into business, and he finally ended up
in Washington in "Voice of America." He was with the Agriculture
Department, writing for two or three years. Then he went into
"Voice of America" and traveled all over the world with that, and
retired. He retired and lives in Alexandria. He's coming to visit
me on the 12th of October.
Baum: And who did he marry?
MWB: His first wife was Mary Durand, a very attractive woman. They were
divorced. He married a second time, and I can't just at the minute
think of that wife. Then she dropped dead — a heart attack — and now
he and his first wife, Mary, are really great friends. Kind of one
of those working arrangements people have at that time of life.
Baum: Oh, he and his first wife again.
MWB: Mary Durand, his first wife, whom I always liked better.
Baum: Well, that's nice, isn't it.
MWB: Yes. She's a delightful, very well bred person. Her father was
tariff commissioner under five presidents. They spent time in
Europe. She worked with the French in the CIA. She went in
MWB: because she spoke beautiful French and was a very good pianist. I
just visited them when I went with them to the wedding of their
daughter in Cape Cod, second time around.
Baum: Oh, yes, I remember when you were going last year.
MWB: Yes, it was about this time September last year. It was a lovely
Baum: I don't think I got the children. Howe had two children?
MWB: Yes, two daughters.
Baum: By Mary.
MWB: By Mary, the first wife, who is now his companion. [laughter]
Baum: They ought to put that back together again.
MWB: No. If they did, it wouldn't work five minutes. No, he has his
own house; they're about ten minutes apart by car. And that's just
fine! We traveled together and she and I always had a room on this
trip. I was nearly two weeks with them. Couldn't be more
attractive. I just had the best time. [laughter] She's not
awfully proud of having been in the CIA.
Baum: Well, it's become unpopular since she was in it.
MWB: Oh, Lord, yes! Her father got her the job when it started and
everyone thought it was going to be such a wonderful way of
handling so much of the information, getting information, and it
sort of ran away with itself.
Now they have plenty of money and they don't have to work. Both
of them have reached their retirement age.
Baum: It sounds like both Howe and Mary led interesting lives.
MWB: They did.
Nancy is their oldest daughter and Beverly is the second. Nancy's
is the wedding that I went to at Cape Cod. Nancy teaches. She is a
professor at Bryn Mawr, teaching the study of religions of the world.
I wouldn't say she's a religious person at all, but that's it.
Baum: Scholar of religion.
MWB: Yes. Very pretty girl. She's in her thirties. I would say she was
thirty-two when she married.
Baum: Did Griffing have any children?
Baum: No children.
Well, that takes us through Griff's family. We've gone through
Kate, Paul, Griff, and now that brings us to Philip.
MWB: Philip's oldest daughter, as you know — you have all that, right?
Baum: Actually, a lot of that's in Philip's oral history. Anne's his
MWB: Yes. She was married and divorced and took back her name of Anne
Baum: I had her name — oh, Mrs. Wyman Graham.
MWB: Yes, that's it — Wyman Graham. She's a very sick person now. She's
living way north there. You and I were going to get up there, and
I still would love to do it.
Baum: Yes, I'd still like to do it. Santa Rosa, wasn't it?
MWB: Santa Rosa, yes. It's about fifteen miles out of there.
Baum: That's not so far away.
MWB: No, it isn't.
Baum: Did she have children?
MWB: Anne had a son and a daughter, and the daughter died of ptomaine
poisoning when she was about eight years old. The son is not
married, and he is living there with her.
Then Lucy was married to John Redfield and she died two years
ago. Lucy had two boys.
Baum: So Lucy had two sons who would be Redfields.
Then there's Philip, Jr. who carries on the ranch, I know, or
the farm — he manages the farm.
MWB: They sold the whole thing, you know.
Baum: Oh, they just sold it?
MWB: In the last two or three years, they sold it piece by piece. They
have nothing left but — I think it's twelve acres. Ruth, his wife,
has turned that into one of the most spectacular cactus and succulent
gardens in the United States.
Baum: Is that right? Oh, I was there at Philip, Sr. 's ninetieth birthday
and saw a lot of succulents in lath houses.
MWB: They built a huge one and it has just gone wild! [laughter]
Baum: Well, Philip, Sr. had gone wild over irises, I think. He had the
most beautiful irises there.
MWB: Yes, but they were really Ruth's.
Baum: The irises, too?
MWB: Yes, that belonged to her. That was something, you see. Phil lived
across the street, you know.
Baum: Now, Philip and Ruth have three children, am I correct? Nina was
MWB: Yes. First is the one we know — Peter; he's not married. Then Nina.
Nina is married and is going to have her first baby this month.
Then the younger one who married about a year ago.
Baum: I think that just about does it, at least in the genealogy of the
Bancrofts. Perhaps we could just finish one more thing, and that's
Griff's book on the Flight of the Least Petrel. I don't think we
mentioned that. That's a book about the trip to Mexico? Baja?
MWB: Yes. It's right here. I'll put it out here. They must have this,
of course, in the library up there. And there are all the dates,
you see. Imagine, that book was $4.50. We worried and worried
over that price of it.
Baum: [looking through book] 1932. I see Griff's copyrighted it himself.
When was the year of your trip?
MWB: 1920. We were gone nearly six months.
Baum: [reading] "Dedicated to the partner."
MWB: Yes, that's the one.
MWB: Isn't that a nice way to dedicate?
Baum: [examining another book] This is by Griff ing Bancroft and that's
MWB: Yes. You see, he dropped the junior after Griff ing. He has three
of those books.
Baum: [reading title] Snowy, the Story of an Egret. This is copyrighted
1970, McCall Publishing Company.
MWB: Here are the other two.
Baum: And it's dedicated to "Margaret W. Bancroft and to the memory of her
husband and my father."
MWB: That's nice, isn't it?
Baum: That's beautiful, yes. This is another book by Griff ing.
MWB: Vanishing Wings . Those three books.
Baum: And here's a book by Griff ing called Vanishing Wings by Griff ing
Bancroft, Franklin Watts, Inc., 1972, A Tale of Three Birds of Prey.
Here's another book by Griff ing Bancroft, The White Cardinal, Coward,
McCann & Geoghegan, Inc., New York, copyright 1973.
MWB: Here's a book on The Meaning of Communism by Griff ing, too.
Baum: That's kind of off of his birds, isn't it?
MWB: And he's written a book about all of the years of collecting. Time
and time again, publishers have said yes, they'd take it. Then when
they'd read it, they'd say that the ecologists and all the rest of
those people are so violent about people who collected birds' eggs
that they wouldn't publish it. He's thinking of revising it now.
Baum: But he's such an avid Audubon member and all that.
MWB: You just can't tell about people.
Baum: This Meaning of Communism looks like it's a textbook. Oh, it is.
MWB: I'd love for you to meet Griffing. He may come out here.
Baum: Here's the other one of Griffing 's. "Dedicated to the Partner" —
getting back to the Flight of the Least Petrel — "written on board
by Griffing Bancroft."
We had previously discussed how you met Griff on the boat, I
believe, coming down from Los Angeles after a big flood?
Baum: Is that right? You met Griff on the boat? You'd known him before,
but only as a child, only in passing, and your families had known
each other slightly. Then I believe you explained that he was
separated then, wasn't he?
Problems of Griff ing Bancroft's Divorce and Child Custody
MWB: Yes, he was living at the Cuyamaca Club and was separated. His
wife was visiting — I guess staying almost permanently with her
parents. Her father was still Senator Works at that time.
Baum: I know Griff was separated at that time. I just wondered if you'd
tell that story of how that divorce worked out and why it took so
long and was so difficult, since I believe he'd been separated
quite a while.
MWB: Yes. I'm thinking of the necessity of that for a moment.
Baum: Probably it's in the newspapers, isn't it?
MWB: Yes, at the time of the divorce.
Baum: The scandal part is in the newspapers.
MWB: No, there was never any scandal; it was just simply that he got
this divorce. Their families were prominent. Nowadays no one in
the world would look for a divorce to be in the newspapers like
that. They never came out with any of the real information in the-
Baum: Trial proceedings?
MWB: Yes, the trial proceedings. Then it's in the supreme court of
California, the decision. We appealed the case, you see.
Baum: Much of the problem was because Ethel Works was Senator John D.
Works ' daughter .
MWB: Yes. And they were such prominent people in those days that the
Los Angeles Times had quite an article at the time of the divorce.
There was never anything about his — well, it did say that. Are we
on tape now?
MWB: Turn it off a minute until I get my brains together,
[tape turned off briefly]
Baum: This is the part that will be a little hard to edit.
Baum: Let me see if I remember what it was. I think Griff and Ethel had
separated about 1912 and the children — Barbara was with Ethel, and
were the boys with Griff?
MWB: They moved to Coronado and tried it again.
Baum: Seems to me I remember a 1914.
MWB: I think it was 1914 when they were separated. And it was 1915 when
I was coming down to —
Baum: This probably works in somehow with Senator Works' election, too,
MWB: He was going to run for office in 1916, but by that time he was one
of the men Woodrow Wilson spoke of as "seven nasty old men" who had
gotten together to keep us out of the war. (That was World War I.)
There was so much opposition to him because of that, he finally
withdrew from running for office again.
Baum: Oh, Senator Works didn't run, finally.
MWB: The second time, he didn't run because that was that great period
between the time war was on in Europe and we declared war in 1917,
you see. By that time, in '16, he had announced he was against us
going into war, and lost his popularity. So he didn't run.
Then Griff filed suit as soon as possible for divorce, and because
he thought it could be done without any antagonism, he let Ethel file
for the divorce. She had been living in the East, anyway.
When it came to trial, it was a great shock to him to see that he
was not going to have control of the boys.
Baum: She'd asked for the custody of all the children — all three.
MWB: Custody of all three children and alimony, too, and money to care
for them. So, with the lawyers he decided to appeal the case and
they did appeal it. There was a gap in there of three days that he
was actually divorced before the appeal had been filed, which was
just time enough for him to get his children out and for them to
file the appeal . And they did file an appeal .
Baum: Who filed the appeal?
MWB: Griff filed it.
Baum: Griff's attorney.
MWB: Yes, filed an appeal. We stayed north that whole fourteen months
until the supreme court of California upheld the decision of the
superior court in San Diego.
Baum: So this divorce was filed in San Diego County.
MWB: Oh, yes, it was all in San Diego County.
Baum: I think you mentioned Griff was supposed to turn the children over
to the Works family —
MWB: To Ethel and her attorney on the courthouse steps. That's when he
kidnapped them and then they sued him for kidnapping his own chil
dren. We had only been married a very few weeks when the sheriff
appeared at Walnut Creek, at the farm, and took Griff back to San
The first thing he said, "I'll trust you if you tell me you
won't run off on me or do something, but I won't submit you to
having handcuffs. But I could handcuff you." And Griff said
all right, he'd submit to it. So he came back to San Diego to
answer the fact that he had filed by an appeal case. It was quite
a technical point in the law of it. Then he came back in a few
days to San Francisco and then to Walnut Creek, and that's where
we lived for the fourteen months until the case was settled.
Baum: I see. Now, do I have this correct? First, Griff got a divorce,
which was a divorce, but it included giving Ethel the custody of
MWB: No, he filed.
Baum: He filed, but didn't you say he was divorced for three days?
MWB: Filed a suit for divorce, and then it's the judge's decision as to
the custody of the children. Then they said that she was to have
complete custody of the children, but Griff was to have them part
of the summer on the vacations. They would have divided the vaca
tions. That's when I guess he was so terribly upset.
He at one time thought we might go to South America and live
someplace where they couldn't bring us back to California. But
at the end of the time, the boys had grown old enough and they were
very determined they wanted to stay with their father, and Barbara
wanted to stay with their mother. After having them for two or
three small vacations, Ethel decided that they were too much for
MWB: Of course, by that time, money was such an involvement and then she
wasn't going to get enough of an allowance to live as she had lived;
so she just gave up the boys completely. From that time on, the
children didn't see their mother for several years. Then, after
they were grown, they did see her at times, but there never was a
real relationship there.
Baum: Sometime in there, Margaret, you asked for a dispensation for marry
ing a divorced man. When did that happen?
MWB: That was before we knew there was going to be any trouble about the
children, and we asked for a dispensation.
Baum: This is before you were married.
MWB: Oh, yes.
Baum: In order to have a religiously proper marriage.
MWB: Yes. We spoke to Bishop Conanty of Los Angeles, who knew my mother.
We did everything and we had a just cause because she had never
been baptized and Griff was baptized. Also, the church — you see,
they don't consider that a religious marriage.
Baum: I see. Ethel had not been baptized.
MWB : No , she never had .
Baum: How come?
MWB: Well, they were Unitarians; I guess it was Unitarians. So they
absolutely refused to give us a dispensation. Then when all this
crisis came, I made up my mind I was going on to get married, and
then if I could straighten it out later, I would. By the time I
got around to doing it, I didn't want to continue to be a practicing
Catholic. I still have loyalty there sometimes, you know. [chuckles]
Baum: On what grounds did they refuse to give you a dispensation? It
wasn't your dispensation; it was Griff's, wasn't it?
MWB: It was a dispensation for me to marry Griff. It was again the
publicity. The Catholic church would have gotten too much adverse
publicity, we; felt, and that's why I left the church, because I
didn't think they'd been fair-minded about it. Other people were
getting a dispansation, but we simply would have gotten too much
publicity for the Catholic church.
Nowadays you wouldn't even think of it, but in those days, people
were far more religious and followed the forms of the church so much
more. I think that's enough for that part of it.
Baum: Yes. So this led you away from the church.
Hubert Howe Bancroft's Religious Attitudes
Baum: How did the Bancroft family feel about your Catholicism?
MWB: Oh, it didn't bother them. They knew that I wasn't going to ask the
boys to become Catholics. I wasn't going to, in any way. At one
time, they went to the Episcopal church as youngsters. Hubert Howe
Bancroft was an agnostic.
Then I began studying religions, the Catholic religion and other
religions, and the more I studied, the less I wanted to become a
member of any church. So I, from that time on — although I have
great respect for a great many things they do, it kept me from ever
wanting to go into any church as a member of a church.
Baum: Hubert Howe Bancroft had been very religious at one point, I know,
because I've read his journals.
MWB: Oh, yes, but he finally became very much of an agnostic.
Baum: Is that right?
Baum: Did he talk about things like that when you were at Walnut Creek?
MWB: Oh, yes, a little bit. He used to tease his old Irish nurse because
she was ignorant, and very Catholic in her point of view in every
thing, and he teased her about it. He'd say, "Ask Margaret because
she knows." [chuckles] He didn't really make fun of her church,
but he didn't belong to any church.
As the children grew up, I think the girls — some of the family —
Baum: Kate's daughters?
MWB: Yes. They were Episcopalians.
Baum: I see.
MWB: Kate used to sing in the Episcopal choir.
Baum: Did Hubert Howe Bancroft try to talk to his grandsons about religion
MWB : No .
Baum: It wasn't one of his special concerns, one way or the other.
MWB: No, no. He left that to the womenfolk.
Baum: I see. [laughter] It seemed like he was interested in your
education. I wondered if he was that interested in making sure
his grandsons followed the line he took.
MWB: No, not at all. He was extremely interested in getting them to
know the histories of the world and getting them deeply interested
in ancient history and getting them to learn, to put some depth
into their education.
That was the one thing. He was always giving them a prize if
they could memorize every state in the union and they could know
the principal rivers, and he'd give them a few dimes. From day to
day, it was different things that he'd ask them to learn. As they
grew older, he got them more interested.
Baum: So he was more concerned about their historical training than their
MWB: Absolutely. He paid no attention to their religious training. I
don't know, if one of them had become very active in some church,
but then none of them ever did. Episcopalians — I think Kate did
that because she sang in the choir. I don't think she was a
particularly religious person.
Baum: Did Griff remain an agnostic throughout his life?
MWB : Yes .
Baum: So you really weren't related to a church after your marriage very
MWB: No. Griff never interfered with it, but he just left it entirely
up to me.
Baum: I remember when I was talking to Phil that he pointed out to me
that his father sometimes was concerned that when he died, he would
just be gone. That was sort of a feeling of loss, but he still
didn't believe in an afterlife any more.
MWB: Of course, I don't know. I have absolutely no faith — dust to dust.
There we are — grow daisies with the dust and the world goes on.
Only if you've left something behind you that's worthwhile for
people to remember; otherwise, you'd simply go into dust. Well,
now, let's get out of religion after the poor pope has died.
[The death of Pope John Paul I was announced this morning.]
Baum: Yes. Well, I see that is a concern to you even if you've left
religion. You're interested still in the Catholic church.
MWB: I am interested in it because I think it has great influence over
the world at large. And I think that if the Catholic church would
become more liberal — I do think that as children grow up, it's good
for them to have the knowledge of the church anyway, and then let
them make up their minds later on what they want to become. They
ought to have at least a knowledge and a knowledge of how to behave
in a church, and have respect for other people's opinions about
their religion. Beyond that, I think that it's up to the individual.
Baum: Do you have any comments you'd like to make about Hubert Howe
Bancroft, or his influence on Griff, or the grandsons?
MWB: I think he was a remarkable father in that he took a vital interest
in their lives and he never ceased to until the day he died . He
wrote to his sons, I would imagine, a letter maybe every week or
something, just a note, just a few words maybe, but he never lost
track of his sons. He did, though, with his daughters. But he had
that intense interest, and they had it for him.
At times, one time or two, Griff would always spend the money,
and then he'd be awfully cross with him, and I think that is in
some of those letters. But when anything happened to them, like
Griff's divorce, he just was violent against the woman. He was
violent against anyone that did anything wrong to his boys.
What's next now?
Baum: I think that's all we have on our agenda, Margaret. I think we've
covered the waterfront unless I come up with more questions. I've
gone through the transcript, and most of the things are pretty clear.
MWB: Now, that one article there on Griff ing. I'll see if I can get Howe
to do one for you.
Baum: Yes, that would be good. So that would trace them.
MWB: I don't know who else. Phil covered his own children, and we've
pretty well covered Paul Bancroft's, and then I think that's it.
Baum: We've come to the end of the tape. We're just about finished.
Transcriber: Marie Herold
Final Typist: Marilyn White
Guide to Tapes — Margaret Wood Bancroft
Interview 1; March 9, 1977 1
tape 1, side A 1
tape 1, side B 9
tape 2, side A 17
tape 2, side B 25
tape 3, side A 33
Interview 2; March 10, 1977 41
tape 3, side B 41
tape 4, side A 49
tape 4, side B 56
tape 5, side A 66
tape 5, side B 75
Interview 3; July 2, 1977 78
tape 6, side A 78
tape 6, side B 88
tape 7, side A 96
Interview 4; July 3, 1977 105
tape 7, side B 105
tape 8, side A 114
tape 8, side B 123
Interview 5: July 4, 1977 132
tape 9, side A 132
tape 9, side B 139
tape 10, side A [side B not recorded] 147
Interview 6; September 28, 1978 154
tape 11, side A 154
tape 11, side B 162
tape 12, side A [side B not recorded] 168
By GUS STEVENS
Ten miles east of downtown Sari
Diego there is a spring that has
produced fresh, life-giving water for
thousands of years.
It is a green spot to this day;
surrounded by very large palm trees
and high grass, only a few yards
from small houses, an apartment
house construction project and the
busy traffic of a highway. , j.y.
Ten thousand years ago the spring
provided Life to Indians, according to
study of excavations -.at the site
which has gone as deep as seven feet
'while' yielding rich discoveries. - : - v • ':
A 'village existed on the site fronr
about 900 to 1835 A. D. It was called"
Neti (or Meti) and its residents were
members of the Kumeyaay Indian/
tribe. Archeologists believe the vil-.
lage covered 30 to 50 acres, v.-.f :>';
Indians in the spring area were
baptoed by Spanish priests in Octo
ber 1775, according to mission,
records, and at the same time the
padres changed the village name to
El Aquaje de San Jorge, Springs of
The first house erected by a white
man — probably with the help of"
Indian labor — was .built in 1863,1
Two years later the white man died"
and the next owner, at the urging of,
his daughter, gave the area a new,
name.' ";;v*;-.-^-s^:3ES^fe^ '?•&&&
The name • has, persisted/-' It ; , Is;.
Spring Valley. .?;&V -i ; •'..>£'$&&
The first permanent house, '-now
114 years old, also persists. It now is
called the Bancroft . Ranch House
and it has become- a" state and na?
tional historic.landmark.' ;. 7 "- •-,!.'" !vf
' / "Today the house, : a- small,- .white,''
two-room adobe with walls 10 inches
! to. two feet thick, is 'owned by the
'.Spring Valley • Historical Society;
•which also owns three-fourths of an
acre of property at the site. ' ••.-"
i The address is 9060 Memory Lane,
about 200 yards east of Bancroft Dr,
It is in a grassy spot, snug behind its
front porch of uneven lines and
under its shake roof.. . • i • . - • ; - : ;« -'•
I In the front yard are tables for
picnickers and overhead is an um
brella of thick palms and very large
pepper trees. •'•':..'•• -.:•-•• >
Mrs- Kama Webster;' the president
of the historical society and hostess
to visitors at the ranch house, is an-
insatiable expert on the history of
Spring Valley and environs, -^if.. •>?..-.-.
The ranch house is heated bnly by
light bulbs, but despite the bone-
chilling cold which hangs inside on a
cloudy winter day, she is pleased to
sit in the living room and talk Spring
The adobe house -was built by •
Judge Augustus S. • Ensworth, who:
homesteaded 160 acres in what later •
was to become the heart of Spring i
Valley..- Some of its timbers came •
from the wrecked hulk of the sailing
vessel Clarissa Andrews,, which had
broken up after running aground off.:'
Ballast Point.. X -v ' i ; '.-. •)?.;£.•
Ensworth was a San- Diego justice.;
of the peace and he served a year in
the state Assembly in 1859, nine
years after California became . a
state: < '•-:..• .-•• '---.A^rv "'-'•' --••' r -'.*!
: Later he- was a. partner with
.Thomas .Whaley, the two lawyers
working together in Old Town's
Whaley House. Ensworth suffered a
fall in Whaley House, contracted-
.blood poisoning and died soon after;/
'--.. "Some say Ensworth is one of the'
well-known Whaley House ghos_ts,"
Webster said. "I don't, know about
-that, but he led a colorful early life,
'too/ He was a Texas Ranger and he.
\ fought in the Mexican War."
: V : Capt. Ruf us K. Porter bought the"
house, after Ensworth's death and.
moved into it with his family from
San- Pedro in 1865. -Porter — the-
"captain" was an ^honorary title —
was a clockmaker, peddler, railroad
worker, deputy sheriff, schoolteach
er, miner and innkeeper, over the
years.. — " ; ''^ ! -3;:- ?,;<>- ".•• '•' : :f''" ' : •'•:'•',
"He. was" a ' man of charm arid-
personality,"-; Webster.' said. "He
added a frame kitchen-dining room
and two bedrooms to the house and
entertained many travelers in the
years when it was a day's journey
into San Diego. - . - -i .- -'- • • ; .-. "'.- ! r :
, -It was his daughter, Rufina, who<
persuaded her father to name the
place Spring Valley.- Porter devel
oped the property as a farm — there
were many olive trees — and he
became well known through letters
and columns he wrote for California
newspapers. He later became the
valley postmaster. - .,
•; Fame came • to Spring
Valley in 1885 when Hubert
Howe Bancroft, a wealthy
San .Francisco book publish
er; bought the property as a
retirement home. ••-.'.': -:•. .-.
He also bought additional j
land and called his 700 '
acres Helix Farms. Expert- \
mental farming produced
subtropical trees, palms, ol->
ives and citrus. j
"We think Bancroft plant
ed the pepper trees you
see," Webster said. "We;
know they were full grown
50 years ago." -
Bancroft lived in the
.ranch house and another
larger house he built near
by for. 33 years, until his
death in 1918. Much of the
work on his monumental
Western history books was
done in Spring Valley.
,'• The 39-volume series was
called the "West American
Historical Series" and
these, written with staff
help, and others made Ban
croft the West's leading his
torian. In 1905 he donatedi
his collection of 60,000 his-!
torical volumes to the Uni
versity of California. The!
Bancroft Library is housed '
at the Berkeley campus. ' j
"I wanted to find out;
more about his death,'
which took place in Walnut
Creek," Webster said. 'T.
went to San Francisco and
found his obituary in the
newspapers. He was hit by
a San Francisco streetcar
and never recovered." . ,
A few years ago an
unused set of Bancroft's
history volumes was found:
still in its packing crate. \
Bancroft heirs gave the set >
to the ranch house, where it I
rests in a bookcase, thei
cornerstone of the little
Elsewhere in the muse-j
urn's living room are other
books by the famed histori- j
'an, portraits of Bancroft!
and others, models of an-i
cient Indian workshops, an- !
tique furniture and a fire- j
In the bedroom are many j
Indian artifacts, some of I
which Webster describes as
There are quartz crystals I
and bat ray teeth used by)
shamen as magic things, \
grinding stones, clay pipes, '.
arrowheads, pottery, sea-
shells, beads, pendants and
bone needles. Two burial
urns containing the bones of-.
children have been found.!
From the white man's peri- >
od there are bottles, belt
buckles and nails. < ;
Dr. Paul Ezeil, a San
Diego State University
anthropologist, began exca
vation of the site in 1969.
"Every shovelful of dirt has !
something in it," Webster'
. The property- is kept
under the eye of Charles
Harmon, a retired Marine
and decorated veteran of
who lives in a nearby house
owned by the society.
Last Dec. 27 the Board of!
Supervisors approved pur-i
chase of an acre of land,
from the Goodbody estate, j
The land adjoins the spring;
and it is hoped that in ai
year. or two a county parkj
will encompass the ranch
house. - .. ;: ''••'•' J'-^ • ; -"
= "Helix Farms filled much
of the. valley," " Webster
said, "and Bancroft built
•several structures. Some
remain in use, including a
foundation that now sup
ports a church building
across the highway. There's!
a stone house nearby where!
he kept some of his papers'
Wje'd like to save that." I
The ranch house museum
welcomes tour groups and
visiting individuals daily,
except Monday and Tues
day, between 1 p.m. and 4
p.m. Support costs the his
torical society and its pa
trons about $1,000 a year.
Meanwhile, the spring
which started it all thou
sands of years ago contin
ues to" offer its fresh, life-,|
giving water to its neigh- 1
bors and weary travelers i
alike.- . .-- ;v-ij.j
83 .^ 83
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FLORIDA 33924 ^BuuaTj 23, 1977
As I told you on the phone my memories of EHB
are so mixed up with what was actual reality and i-jhat
was family legend that * can not for certain guarantee
all of this to be verbatim truth.
I do recall his giving each of us (grandchildren)
s?3>0 for memorizing what he listed as the fifty most *< /,l'
important dates in history ^oday I do not remember any
t seems to me that he also had us learn the
capitals "and principle products of each state with a rhyme
starting in the far northeast with "Augusta Maine, tar
pitch' and turpentine." That is all I C an reiriEinber of
that, if it indeed came from him.
-*- know wjl^randchildnsqwe-re told that our
cousin ^artin Bancroft had to sneak onto our farm if
we played together there because if HHB caught him
he would whip him back through the barrier trees
between his farm and ourS. -Miis, of course, because he
was alleged to have carried on his fcasEfc- f eud with his
younger brother, A. £>., even unto the third generation.
I remember ^ad being very proud of the fact that
his father (HUB) had a letter delivered to him that was
addressed simply.: "Mr. B ancroft, California."
Then there T^ere, of course, all the stories about
his desire for male offspring solely : e.g. that he stopped
sleeping with his wife (who had given him three sons) after
s&e produced a daughter ^Lucy) . That he credited
•Philip's first two daughters to Nina, but when a grandson
waS produced proudly said Philip's had a son."
(Much of this, it see;-s to me, is belied by the fact that
he spoke warmer jerbf^'his daughter Kate and used her a^a
secretary in inter viewing many of the pioneers.
Of his resentment of the automobile he is said to
have kept his horse and buggy in the middle of country roads
and when a motorist had to plox^r/ through a ditch te get
he would shoi3bat him/ "road hogl"
A stpry Dad used to tell* When his wife (^atilda)
was going away for 2 weels she made him promise to Brite her
every day. Dislaking to have this hanging over his head, he
saw her off, returned to his office, dictated U| letters and
instructed his secretary to mail one each day.
I don't know if any of this is helpful, but I'll
send it along 5 /'
Love, // •
'^7 i ,'
Article about Griff ing Bancroft, Jr.
Islander (Captiva, Florida), May 9, 1978
Tuesday. Mays, 1978
Various Island Personalities by miller davis
Nearly every morning a 71-year-old
man with closecropped hair and
darting brown eyes leads a small
procession through the wooded and
marshy labyrinths of Sanibel and
Captiva. With impeccable choice of
words, he explains to his followers the
animated, color-splashed wonders of
possibly the most fascinating branch of
zoology -ornithology .
He points with his hands and his eyes
as he explains the habits of the most
numerous of all warm-blooded ver
This remarkable man came by his
knowledge of birds as a young boy in
Southern California; he followed his
father through the less tangled but
equally verdant hills and valleys of that
Griffing Bancroft Sr. taught Griffing
Bancroft Jr. about birds-their purpose
in nature's scheme, the reasons for
their high degree of mobility, their
uncanny ability to survive through the
incessant workings of an inner com-
Griffing Bancroft enjoying life today on Sanibel.
pass that guides birds on every con
So distinguished in the field of or
nithology was Griffing Bancroft Sr.-
and later, Griffing Bancroft Jr. -that at
least two species bear their name: the
Bancroft Yellow Crowned Night Heron,
and the Bancroft Screech Owl.
The people who follow Griffing
Bancroft, Jr. these early mornings on
Sanibel and Captiva-on these three-
hour pilgrimages into the fluttery,
sound-filled world of birds-probably
know Bancroft only as a scholarly
writer-expert ' in the field of or
What they don't know is that the
name Griffing Bancroft (he has
dropped the "Jr.") stands high in the
American radio hall of fame. Stands
shoulder to shoulder with the names of
Edward R. Murrow, Lowell Thomas,
H.V' Kaltenborn-and, yes, with the
name of possibly the most respected
voice in the world: Walter Cronkite.
Griffing Bancroft knew them all,
worked side by side with some, and
remembers the day when Cronkite
came to CBS and asked for a job.
"Television was just beginning and
radio newsmen didn't want any part of
it because there wasn't much money in
it then, and radio people distrusted this
new medium," Bancroft recalls.
"But Walter Cronkite gratefully and
eagerly accepted a job as an early TV
newscaster. I remember he sat in a
cubbyhole and worked hard at his new
"And today? The world knows
Cronkite as the news anchor man with
probably the greatest degree of in
Bancroft himself was hired by the
late Edward R. Murrow, and rose
steadily in the ranks of the nation's top
professional radio commentators.
His programs-Capitol Cloakroom,
Face the Nation and World News
Roundup-are considered classics in
Bancroft in 1948 covered five national
political conventions, and looking back,
considers his coverage of the Sen. Joe
McCarthy hearings his chief assign
Bancroft's debut in the news field
came about from an economic
situation-he was graduated from the
University of Chicago in 1930.
"I was a Depression graduate," he
says, smiling back over the years.
"I'd studied business in college, but
the only job I could find was rewriting
obits for the San Diego Sun." Later he
covered police and city hall.
From there it was on to the Los
Angeles Herald-Express where he
covered the California legislature,
then he wanted to become a foreign
correspondent at the outbreak of war.
"I wanted to be another Richard
Harding Davis, but I got stuck in
In the interim Bancroft was a
stringer of INS (the defunct In
ternational News Service), and next
wound up on the Chicago Sun just
before it merged with the Times to
become the Chicago Sun -Times in 1948.
(Bancroft left the Sun-Times to join
CBS just a year before his ISLANDER
interviewer went to work for the
Chicago Daily News-hence Sunday
morning's interview in Bancroft's
Captiva home was the first meeting of
the two men, though the interviewer
long had known of and respected
Eating breakfast with Bancroft
Sunday was a strikingly attractive
woman in a blue gown topped by
bouffant silvery-white hair. She is Jane
Eads Bancroft, his wife, a former
nationally-known newswoman whom
Bancroft met in Washington some
With patent pride, Bancroft said,
"Jane really made her mark in a field
then almost reserved for men. "She
wrote a column for the AP (Associated
Press) that ran in more than 300
Griffing and Jane Bancroft came to
Captiva in 1958.
"I wanted to write and I did indeed
write a book on communism and did
some writing for the Voice of
America," he says.
And then-it was back to his first field
of study and enjoyment. Birds.
A shelf in his library is devoted to
ornithology and among the books are
those he's written.
Griffing Bancroft-a man who has led
two divergent lives.
And has grabbed the brass ring of
success in each.
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH - Howe Bancroft
I was born July 30, 1909, the youngest son of Griff ing Bancroft — who was,
of course, a son of Hubert Howe Bancroft. I was named after my grandfather,
but have never used the first name.
Unfortunately for your purposes, I barely remember H.H. (as he was usually
called in the family) — I was only nine at the time of his death. I have an
extremely vague memory of an aged man, heavily dressed, sitting in a small
interior room in Walnut Creek. Also, that myself and the other children were
not to bother him.
(I do have one peripheral recollection. As you probably know, H.H. had
quarreled bitterly with his brother, A.L. Bancroft, a quarrel that was clung
to with true New England vigor and tenacity, and that, so far as I know, was
never settled. Unfortunately, A.L.'s son Frank and his family lived on a
farm separated from that of H.H. only by a row of tall eucalyptus trees. I
recall that one of Uncle Frank's sons, Martin — a boy slightly older than my
self — used to come over and visit us. "Sneak over" would be a better phrase,
for Martin's visits were kept as secret from H.H. as Juliet ever kept secret
from the other Capulets the visits of Romeo.)
As for myself, I had a normal childhood and youth, then marticulated at
Stanford. However, I had at that time incurably itchy feet and left after
two years. Unfortunately, this was in the year 1931 — the bottom of the Great
Depression of the 1930s — and work was hard to find. So for three or four
years I had a number of short-lived jobs — on a small town newspaper, in the
new oil fields in Kettleman Hills, on a construction job, for a gas company,
on a fishing boat, etc. Finally, on the always dubious theory that the grass
in the next pasture is greener, I went east, gravitating to New York. Here
there was the same job trouble, but after a few months I got work as a rewrite
man on the old New York Journal , which lasted until that paper went out of
existence about two years later. Meanwhile, I had had some success in selling
pulp magazine and children's stories — not that I knew the slightest thing
about children — and made enough to live on, though somewhat precariously.
At that time, I lived in Greenwich Village, with occasional visits to
Provincetown, and there, in 1939, I met a girl from Washington — a place I
had never been to. We agreed to marry, and since I had no roots in any
particular place, I decided to go south with her to Washington and try my
luck there — both maritally and professionally.
And that changed everything in my life, for Washington meant the govern
ment, and the government became my employer for twenty-eight years. I was
first with the Department of Agriculture, shifted to intelligence work when
the war began, was briefly in the army and after the war in the Veterans
Administration — but nearly always functioning as a government writer. About
that time I was divorced, quit the government and returned to my family's
home in La Jolla for a few months. Then I went to New York, worked in a
hospital for a while and finally got settled permanently with the Voice of
America, which at that time was located in New York. I began as the agri
cultural editor, because of my previous experience in that field, later
became a Voice of America commentator on current foreign and domestic
affairs, and finally a branch chief with a group of writers and technicians
under me. I was with Voice of America for twenty-one years, retiring in
Since then I have been living very quietly in Alexandria, across the
Potomac River from Washington. I read a lot, as I always have, attempt to
play the piano, take a great interest in cooking, and go traveling at home
or abroad whenever I feel unduly bored.
I got married again, but my second wife died in 1966. I have two
daughters by my first marriage, one living in Philadelphia and the other
INDEX — Margaret Wood Bancroft
Allen, Alfred, 9-10, 90, 98
Bancroft, A.L., 27-28
Bancroft, Barbara. See Molloy, Barbara Bancroft
Bancroft, Ethel Works, 15-16, 171-173
Bancroft, Frank, 128-129
Bancroft, Griff ing, 36
bird egg collections, 128-130, 134-135, 138-140, 142
bridge system, 132-133
child custody problems, 15-16, 170-173
courtship of Margaret Wood, 12-17, 19-20, 96
late life, 151-152
writing, 23-24, 161-162, 168-169
Bancroft, Griffing, Jr., 135-140, 147-148, 164-165, 169
Bancroft, Howe, 130-131, 136, 147-148, 165-166
Bancroft, Hubert Howe
book purchasing, 49-50, 53-54
business management, 83-84
character, 41-42, 48-49, 103-104
conflict with Society of California Pioneers, 56
death and funeral, 59-62
estate, 55, 63-64, 141-142, 155-157
family, childrearing, 43, 175-176
friendship with grandchildren, 54-55
interviewing, John Fremont, 51-52
religious convictions, 32-33, 174-176
San Diego, California properties, 14, 43-48
San Francisco, homes, 57-58
travel, 43, 50-51
Yosemite (1918), 37-40
Walnut Creek ranch life, 17-18, 25-37, 78-80
women, attitude toward, 154-155
work habits, 30, 84
Bancroft, Katherine. See Richards, Katharine Bancroft
Bancroft, Lou. 86-87
Bancroft, Lucy, 34-35
Bancroft, Matilda, 21-22, 37
Bancroft, Nina, 26, 28-29, 86-87
Bancroft, Paul, 36, 86, 160.-161
Bancroft, Philip, 26, 28-29, 36, 63, 133-134, 160-161
campaign for U.S. Senate (1938), 66-72, 148-149
Bancroft Ranch, Walnut Creek, 81-83
bird egg collecting, Pacific basin, 128-130, 134-135, 142-146
Chaplin, Charles, 11-12, 91-93
Chaplin, Sidney, 91-92
Chickering, Harvey and Allen, 122
Convair Consolidated, airplane construction (World War II), 149-151
Davies, Marion, 8
De Mille, Constance, 97-98
Doeg, John, 130-131
Durand, Mary, 148, 165-166
Eads, Jane, 137, 165
Field, Clyde, 142-143
Fremont, John, 51-52
Gish, Dorothy, 100-101
Gish, Lillian, 94, 100-101
Green, J. Elton, 135
Griffith, David W. , 98-102
Harrison, Edward, 138
Henshaw, William G., 121-122
Horton, Alanzo, 44
Ingersoll, A.M., 129
Intolerance, 9, 99-100
Jackson, Mary, 137, 164-165
Japanese-American relocation CWorld War II) , 72-73
Lewis, Joy, 10, 94
Lineaweaver, Ruth Richards, 157-159
Mack Sennett Studio, 91-95
Marion, Frances, 8, 90, 126
Marsh, Mae, 102
Meling, Salve, 143-146
Molloy, Barbara Bancroft, 19, 21, 162-164
motion picture industry, California (1913-1917), 6-12, 88-104, 123-127
Nixon, Richard, 69-70
state dinner (1970), 75-76
vice-presidential campaign (1952) , 74
Normand, Mabel, 10
Poe, Katherine Richards, 157-159
Richards, Katherine Bancroft, 35-36, 157-159
San Diego County, California
Hubert Howe Bancroft property holdings in, 14, 43-48
Witch Creek area, 111-123
Sawday, George, 67, 112-113
Tilden, William, 131-132
women workers, war industry (World War II), 149-151
Wood, Clarence, family
guest ranch, Witch Creek, California, 111-123
Kentucky background, 105-109
move to San Diego, California, 1-6, 109-111, 116-117
Works, John D., 21, 171
Villa Klug Baum
Grew up in Middle West and Southern California.
B.A. , Whittier College, in American history and
philosophy; teaching assistant in American
history and constitution.
M.A. , Mills College, in American history and
political science; teaching fellow in humanities.
Graduate work, University of California at
Berkeley, 19^9-195^, in American and California
history; teaching assistant in American history
and recent United States history.
Adult school teacher, Oakland, in English and
Americanization, 19^8-1967; author of teaching
materials for English, and summer session in
structor in English for foreign students,
Speech Department, University of California,
Interviewer and then department head of Regional
Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, Uni
versity of California at Berkeley, 195 1 * to
Active in developing the techniques of oral
history through practice, participation in pro
fessional association meetings and training
workshops , and writing and speaking on oral
history. Author of Oral History for the Local
Historical Society, an oral history manual
published by the American Association for State
and Local History, fourth printing, 1975.
Member, Oral History Association (council member,
1967-1969; co-chairman, Colloquium, 1970);
Western History Association; Conference of Cali
fornia Historical Societies; Society of American
Archivists (committee on oral history); Society
of California Archivists; International Associa
tion of Sound Archives.
1 1 -'5 S